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LI E> RAR.Y 

OF THE 

U N IVE.RSITY 

or ILLINOIS 

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C463-e 

V.2 



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UNIV»SITy OF lulNOIS UBRARV AT URBANA-CHAMPA.GN 



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1981 



L161— O-1096 



LADY LAUEA 

VOL. II. 



LADY LAUEA 



MARY ELIZABETH CHRISTIE 



IN THREE VOLUMES 
VOL. II. 




^y/^TicJlOTal 



STRAHAN AND COMPANY LIMITED 
34, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON 

All rir/hts reserved. 



Hazell, Watson, atid Viriey, Prjntevs, London and Aylesbury. 



323 





CHAPTER I. 

* There's something tells me (but it is not love) I would 
not lose you.' 

FTEE all, the ride to Brynllwyd 
might have been deferred to a 
day when Cassandra considered 
herself fi*ee ; for Heme's visit lengthened 
itself out far beyond its intended term, 
and he stayed at Ardgwen till the red 
and gold had faded from the landscape 
and November gloom lay heavy in the 
valley. And every day he grew more 
intimate with the family and more 
doubtful of the wisdom of upsetting a 
social system among the results of 
which such pleasant households as this 

VOL. II. 1 



2 LADY LAURA. 

were to be numbered. And he was 
liked as much as he liked. Lord St. 
Asaph found him a congenial companion, 
and Lady St. Asaph was grateful to him 
for lightening her husband's depression. 
Lady Sarah struck up quite a warm 
friendship with him, and before she went 
away, she had given him pressing in- 
vitations to come and stay at Llanoun 
and see her schools and other useful in- 
stitutions. Even Lord Ehoos forgot to 
find him a bore. 

And Laura ? 

That bright gleam of cordial friendship, 
which had broken so pleasantly across the 
reserve she had assumed in her first inter- 
course with Heme, had vanished suddenly 
as it had come ; and now again she was 
silent and unapproachable. If he tried 
to engage her in conversation, she remem- 
bered some duty that called her away ; or 
\i constrained to remain in the room, she 



LABV LAURA. 3 

answered in chilling monosyllables and 
turned eagerly to talk with some other 
person. And yet, with a strange per- 
verseness, when he was talking to others 
her eyes would stray in his direction, 
and no word that fell from him escaped 
her ear. She watched him come and 
go, and was conscious of an unwonted 
vibration through all her frame when 
he addressed her. She seemed to know 
beforehand what he was going to say, to 
catch meanings in his words which others 
missed ; and more than once she 'was 
startled to find her eyes meeting his 
across the room in a flash of sympathy 
at some thought that one had uttered 
even while it crossed the mind of the 
other. What had happened to her ? 
She trembled at the answer, for was 
not he Cassandra's lover ? — was not she, 
in a manner, Cassandra's confidante ? 
There was no excuse for her; she had 



4 LADY LAURA. 

known how things were from the be- 
ginning. 

And yet when, where, how had she 
been to blame ? She could no more have 
said at what moment she had first felt a 
tremor in his presence than she could 
have told when the first red glow had 
come upon the woods. She could only- 
long for his departure, and feel, even 
while she longed for it, a great dread 
of the emptiness that he would leave 
behind. She had a foretaste of what 
this- would be every time he missed 
coming into luncheon, or their party was 
so di^dded in walks or rides that he went 
one way and she another. And yet she 
was always straining her ingenuity to 
bring about such arrangements ; for she 
was resolved to be loyal to her cousin, 
cost what it might. 

Sometimes she thought of seeking 
safety in confession to her mother or 



LADY LAURA. 5 

her sister, for she knew that she had but 
to breathe a hint of her distress in order 
to be delivered fi'om Heme's presence 
in the house. But many motives held 
her silent. Shame made her shrink from 
telling how her heart had strayed into 
love for the man who was to be her 
cousin's husband. It was better not to 
speak, she said to herself, for when once 
he was married to Cassandra all would be 
safe — all viust be safe : they would then 
be on a well-defined footing, a certain 
degree of intimacy would be allowable, 
and self-respect would check all warmer 
feelings. It would be better then not to 
have spoken — fairer to herself, to Heme, 
to Cassandra. And then there were hopes 
whispering low in her heart that things 
might take a turn she had not looked for. 
It might be that she was mistaken about 
Cassandra, and in that case her self- 
reproach was uncalled-for. It might be, 



6 LADY LAURA. 

. . . might be . . . might be that it was 
for her sake he was staying so long 
among them. It might be that one 
day he would tell her so. And then all 
her self-tormenting would pass like a bad 
di^eam. 

The low whisperings prevailed, and 
she kept her secret from all about her. 
Not however without a sense of guilt 
that added much to her wretchedness ; 
for once, quite early in Heme's visit, 
she had had a little warning from Lady 
Sarah, which, as it came prematurely, 
she had been able to dismiss with honest 
assm'ances that she was in no danger. 
Ehoos, coming into the library one morn- 
ing, had surprised her sitting on the 
floor in front of a bookcase in which old 
newspapers and periodicals were stowed 
away. A litter of papers was about her, 
and she was so absorbed in some pamphlet 
or magazine that she held in her hand 



LADY LAURA. 7 

as not to notice his entrance. Laura 
was not in the habit of reading old news- 
papers and periodicals, and her brother's 
curiosity was a little excited : he looked 
over her shoulder and discovered that it 
was an article of Heme's in a back number 
of the Beforvier that she was devouring 
with so much interest. He drew his in- 
ferences and communicated them to Lady 
Sarah, who, acting on the hint, gently 
cautioned Laura against letting her affec- 
tions be entangled in a way that was not 
likely to be approved of by her father, 
and could therefore not lead to her own 
happiness. To which Laura had replied 
by assuring her sister that she was in no 
danger of feeling more than friendship for 
Heme, that she had only looked out 
the article because she wanted to under- 
stand something she had heard her father 
say about it, and that there were a thou- 
sand reasons why Sarah must not get 



8 LADY LAURA. 

notions of this kind into her head. And 
she ended hy telling all the little romance 
she had spun about Heme and Cassandra, 
with the result that Lady Sarah was quite 
satisfied that the alarm was needless. 
She told her brother so, and he shrugged 
his shoulders and remarked that, whatever 
happened, he considered that he had done 
his duty. 

And now that there was real danger, 
Sarah was gone and no one seemed 
to suspect anything. The reserve that 
wrapped her round at all times served 
as a cloak for her secret, and no one 
discovered that a change had come over 
her. And yet the change was very 
great. In one short month she had 
learned to look differently on all without 
her and to doubt of much within. New 
worlds of thought had opened to her, 
new subjects claimed her interest. Poli- 
tics, art, science, philosophy — all the dry 



LADY LAURA. 9 

and learned topics of grown-up life, to 
which she had hitherto turned a deaf ear, 
seemed to have revealed themselves in 
forms of Hving interest. Knowledge had 
become incarnate and had spoken to her 
in a human voice. She felt ashamed 
now of the ignorance she had confessed 
so unconcernedly in her first talks with 
Heme ; she hated herseK for the in- 
difference she had hitherto felt towards 
the wider interests of humanity. She 
longed to he more worthy according to 
his standard of worthiness, and blushed 
to find herself continually wondering 
what impression she was making on the 
man who was her cousin's lover. 

But the visit could not last for ever. 
Pleasurable or painful, it had to end, and 
one Sunday morning Laura woke up to 
the consciousness that to-morrow she 
would be delivered from the presence 
that embarrassed her. She tried to per- 



lo LADY LAURA, 

suade herself that she was glad, but 
there was no gladness in the eyes that 
looked at her from the glass while 
she was dressing ; and those were hardly 
tears of joy that stole through her fingers 
a few hours later as she buried her face 
in her hands during the Litany and her 
heart stammered a prayer that she might 
be delivered from her distress — a prayer 
that brought no help, but rather increased 
her trouble and her shame. For here, 
in church, where he never came, sense 
of another guilt than treachery to Cas- 
sandra weighed upon her. This new- 
comer, who had taken all her sympathies 
by violence, seemed to stand between 
her and God; and every thought that 
went towards him seemed so much taken 
from her faith. She wanted to pray to be 
delivered from him ; but while his image 
was present to her, prayer seemed vain, 
for he did not believe it could prevail. 



LADY LAURA. n 

She wiped away her tears and stared 
up at the window so that the sunlight 
might scorch her eyes dry. But they 
filled again immediately and she was 
fain to bury them once more. Then 
she saw Cassandra looking at her as 
if she were reading her secret; and 
with a strong effort she recovered self- 
command and looked steadily at her 
prayer-book during the remainder of the 
service. 

The castle had been poorly represented 
at church that morning. Lord St. Asaph 
never went to church — nor Ehoos, whose 
Continental habit of breakfasting at 
eleven would have been interfered with 
by such an exercise. Heme's avowed 
principles of unbelief excused him of 
course, and Egmont was lazy on Sunday 
mornings and inclined to consider his 
weak ankle. So Lady St. Asaph and 
Laura had had the pew to themselves. 



12 LADV LAURA, 

As tliey came out, they joined the 
rectory party and walked a little way with 
them. Then Cassandra and Anna turned 
back at Lady St. Asaph's invitation, and 
came up to the castle for luncheon. 

As they came through the village 
Laura saw Khoos and Heme coming 
to meet them, and in a moment she felt 
the painful tightness of her heart relax. 

How well she knew that figure, 
the flexible height, the curve of the 
shoulders, the turn of the neck, and — 
over all — the brightness, the charm that 
no other figure had for her ! 

* Is that Khoos coming along ? ' asked 
Lady St. Asaph. 

'Yes, I think so, Ehoos and Maurice 
Heme.' It was Anna who spoke, and 
she added, 'I wonder they are not 
ashamed to show themselves in the face 
of the whole congregation.' 

as it Mr. Heme?' said Lady St. 



LADY LAURA. 13 

Asaph, doubtfully. ' I thought it looked 
like Egmont.' 

Heme and Egmont were about the 
same height, and Laura herself, as the 
reader may remember, had once mistaken 
Heme for her brother. She wondered 
now that she could ever have made such 
a mistake. 

' I think it is Maurice,' repeated Anna ; 
* but I really don't feel sure.' 

* It is certainly Maurice,' Cassandra 
said. ^I could never mistake his walk. 
There is a peculiar uncertain swing about 
it, as though he were trying to go in two 
directions at once.' 

Laura looked up at Cassandra with 
wonder in her eyes. She had been feel- 
ing that not to give an opinion on this 
question of identity was to make herself 
singular, and yet she could not, if her 
Hfe had depended on it, have said a word. 
And here was Cassandra giving her 



14 LADY LAURA. 

opinion with perfect ease and going out 
of her way to suggest disparagement of 
Heme ! A wild hope rushed to her 
heart, driving away the inchnation to 
tears and the choking sensation at her 
throat. She gave herself up to it thank- 
fully — ^joy was safer to-day than sadness, 
easier to conceal and less likely to be 
wondered at if it betrayed itself. She 
would drink the pleasant hope to the 
dregs, putting away the thought of the 
void misery that must come afterwards 
and be borne as it could. She smiled up 
at Heme when he spoke to her, making 
no attempt at reserve. She knew that 
if she answered coldly he would turn 
from her to Cassandra, and that then 
perhaps her tears would come again. 
She let him walk by her and talk. She 
would be happy for an hour, though all 
the future should be blank. Only she 
must avoid Cassandra's eyes and trample 



LADY LAURA. 15 

down the thought of what Cassandra 
might be feeling. 

Again at luncheon he was by her side, 
and again she gave herseK to enjoyment ; 
she talked gaily, laughed, looked brilliant 
and lovely. But after luncheon she stole 
away to her room and knelt down by her 
bed and cried a long time. The others 
went for a walk; but she said she was 
tired and would rather stay at home. 
And by the evening she was in the calm 
impassive state that follows upon a nervous 
paroxysm. 

So the day came to an end. And next 
morning, before she was up, she heard 
wheels grinding along the carriage-road, 
and she knew that the dog- cart had come 
to take him to the early train at Cresford. 

She crept to the window and di'ew back 
the blind and looked out into the autumn 
morning. The sunshine was almost 
as beautiful as on that morning when 



l6 LADY LAURA. 

they had rambled together, but the trees 
were very bare and to Laura the scene 
looked desolate. There was the dog- 
cart waiting, the horse tossing its head 
impatiently and rattling the ring of the 
bearing rein. She noticed that the rug 
she generally used in the pony-carriage 
had been flung over the seat, and she felt 
a pleasure in the fact. A servant brought 
out a portmanteau and put it under the 
seat. Then Egmont came and said some- 
thing to the groom. And then — but then 
her eyes grew dim and she let the blind 
down and started back, for Heme was 
coming out and she dared not risk being 
seen. She left the window and went 
to the dressing-table where half-a-dozen 
withered cyclamens were standing in a 
glass. She took the flowers in her hand 
and placed them in a little note-book 
that she habitually carried about her. 
Then she pushed the book under her 



LADY LAURA, 17 

pillow and crept into bed again. And 
in another moment slie heard the wheels 
tarn, and she knew that he was gone. 

Very empty the house seemed all that 
day, very weary all the uses of her life 
for many days to come. But yet over 
and over again she said to herself that 
it was a relief that he was gone. 

By degrees her life subsided again into 
its accustomed channels, the new sugges- 
tions of doubt and difficulty, which had 
begun to obscure the old lights, vanished 
from her view and left her sky clear and 
untroubled as of old ; and before a 
month was past the only outward change 
to be observed in her was an increased 
activity among the people of the village 
— the only inward change that seemed 
abiding to herself was her newly- awak- 
ened interest in the larger life of the 
world. She read newspapers and was 
attentive when questions of social im- 
VOL. n. 2 



i8 LADY LAURA. 

portance were discussed, and she made 
Cassandra explain to her much in art 
and science which had formerly been 
indifferent to her. 

She believed that all danger was 
past and that her new interests held 
her by their intrinsic importance. But 
the withered cyclamens were not removed 
from their place, and the habit continued 
of putting the little pocket-book under 
her pillow at night. 





CHAPTER II. 

Do you not know I am a woman ? 
When I think, I must speak. ' 

T was a shock to Laura to find 
herself painfully confused when 
one day, about a fortnight before 
Christmas, Egmont, in speaking of some 
guest who was shortly expected at the 
castle, remarked that he should like 
him to meet Heme. She had not under- 
stood that Heme was coming again, and 
she was amazed to find that a certain 
self-consciousness prevented her from 
simply saying so, as would have been 
the natural course. She felt herself 
blushing at mention of his name ; and, 



20 LADY LAURA. 

unwilling to meet her brother's look, she 
received the communication in silence. 

Egmont misunderstood her silence and 
imputed it to dislike of Heme. 

/ I can't think why you have taken 
such a disHke to Heme,' he said in a 
tone of annoyance. * He is really a very 
good fellow, full of kindheartedness and 
generosity. And though he has got very 
Kadical opinions, I declare I think there 
is a great deal of reason in much that 
he says. He is not a bit of a prig ; 
indeed he can't be, or my father would 
never have taken such a fancy to him. 
It is very illiberal of you to disHke him, 
just because he is not a Conservative. 
You know the fact is, Laura, . . . .' 

Here Egmont stopped and got rather 
red. He was beginning to feel it in- 
cumbent on him to have opinions and 
to express them ; but at the same time 
he was conscious of the difficulty of 



LADY LAURA. 21 

appearing in a new character in the 
family circle. Away from home, he 
talked politics with dignity if not with 
originality ; but at home his intellectual 
majority was not recognised, and he con- 
fined himself generally to more boyish 
subjects. His friendship with Heme 
had however given him courage of late ; 
besides, he had been reading political 
economy and constitutional history, 
and, what with books and the conversa- 
tion of his friend, he was in as fair a 
way as most of us to become a political 
light. 

He waited a moment to collect his 
ideas, and then began again. * You 
see, Laura, I think we are a little too 
much inclined to stand still here. My 
father's ill-health has put him out of 
the struggle ; he really knows nothing 
of the state of thought and feeling at 
the present day ; things have made 



22 LADY LAURA. 

enormous strides since he was a young 
man ; and of course, if things change, 
opinions must change too. And then, 
you know, though my mother is admir- 
able in a practical way, she does not 
take a large view. They say women 
never do. I mean, you know, that though 
it's very nice to have the parish under 
one's own influence and to be a sort 
of royal family in the place, this sort of 
feudal state of things can't go on always, 
and that every man ought to look all 
these working-class questions boldly in 
the face so as to be ready to take his 
part when the time for action comes. 
And my father himself was a Liberal 
when he was a young man, though I 
don't know that that matters. . . . But 
what was I saying ? Oh, I remember, 
I was speaking of Heme. He really 
is a very good fellow and thoroughly 
earnest in his opinions.' 



LADY LAURA. 23 

' I do not doubt his being in earnest, 
but I think he is rather unpractical,' said 
Laura, getting more and more embar- 
rassed, and feehng diiven to say some- 
thing, since Egmont was determined to 
argue about Heme's merits. She had 
no particular meaning in saying that he 
was unpractical, and was annoyed to 
find the word taken up by her brother. 

^ Unpractical ? That's what women 
always say when they don't know what 
fault to find with a man.' 

^ Do they ? ' said Laura, with a peculiar 
smile that she seldom showed to any one 
but Egmont — a smile that betrayed the 
presence of some critical keenness under 
the diffidence and silence of her usual 
bearing. ^ Do they always say men 
are unpractical ? I should say that 
showed there must be some truth in the 
charge.' 

^ Not in the least ; a thing does not 



24 LADY LAURA. 

become true by repetition,' said Egmont 
sublimely. ^But what do you mean by 
being unpractical ? ' 

^ Talking about things that can't be 
done instead of doing what can.' 

^ Oh, if that is your idea of Heme,' 
said Egmont, rousing himself with sudden 
and somewhat scornful energy, ^I can 
only tell you that you are tremendously 
mistaken. He is always doing all sorts 
of good things — Quixotic sort of things, 
such as you don't often hear of a man's 
doing. He'll take any amount of trouble 
for a friend. The fact is, he is in a very 
unfair position here, and it's an infernal 
shame from beginning to end.' 

* What do you mean ? ' said Laura, 
wishing heartily that she could tell her 
brother the true state of her feelings 
towards his friend instead of having to 
argue against him and herself at once. 

^ Oh, I mean with regard to the rectory 



y 



LADY LAURA. 25 

people. You must know as well as I do 
that they have got a grudge against him.' 

^I know they don't like his opinions 
and that they think he had a bad influ- 
ence upon Gerard.' 

* Exactly, that's the very thing, and 
what I say is so infernally unfair. Gerard 
got into all sorts of scrapes at Oxford, and 
Heme helped him out of them and made 
the best of things at home. And then 
at last .... but it is not the sort of 
thing I can tell you about. Uncle Harvey 
would have been furious if he had ever 
heard the whole story. When Gerard 
had to leave Oxford in disgrace, and 
all idea of his taking orders had to be 
given up, they chose to say that it was 
Heme's fault : whereas everybody who 
had an ounce of sense knew perfectly 
well that Heme was the best friend 
Gerard ever had, and that Gerard was 
about as fit to go into the Church as 



26 LADY LAURA. 

I am. I declare I wonder Heme con- 
descends to speak to any of them again. 
Only I suppose he likes Cassandra, and 
that sott of thing will make a man over- 
look a good deal.' 

^ I wonder, too, that he comes among 
them. By doing so he seems to me to 
be thrusting himself upon relations who 
do not think well of him and who have 
shown that they wish to drop him. And — 
I cannot quite express what I mean — but 
I have a feeling that a man ought not to 
let himself be thought worse of than he 
deserves, and that if circumstances bring 
such a state of things about, he should 
avoid the society of those who misjudge 
him, and live in a world where he can be 
known as he is. I think that must be 
the meaning of not putting one's light 
under a bushel.' 

^ Pshaw ! ' said Egmont, '• I wish I had 
not told you about Heme. You have 



y^ 



LADY LAURA. 27 

only turned it all to his disadvantage. I 
can't think why you persist in being so 
prejudiced against him.' 

^ Indeed, I am not prejudiced. I only 
said that I regretted his placing himself 
in a false position.' 

* That is just what I complain of in 
you. You ivill not see that it is circum- 
stances that have placed him in a false 
position. The fact is, you don't know 
how perplexing life is to a man.' 

^ Poor Egmont ! ' said Laura, glad to 
divert the conversation into another 
channel. ' Is it very perplexing to you ? ' 

^ Not more so I suppose than to most 
men. But, I say, Laura, don't you think 
you might persuade my mother to have a 
pleasant party in the house at Christmas ? 
It is generally so frightfully dull, and my 
mother can't bear us not to be here, and 
yet I really don't see how we can be 
expected to stay in the house if we may 



28 LADY LAURA. 

not do anything jolly. I don't believe it 
would do my father any harm if we had 
a ball. He really likes to see people 
about, though he fancies he doesn't. 
That's one reason why I asked Heme 
to come back — my father likes him. 
However, we won't go back to that 
subject.' 

And then they wandered away into 
discussion of who might be asked to the 
house, and what might be done for the 
entertainment of their guests when they 
should be gathered together. And Laura 
promised to do her best to persuade her 
father and mother. And she kept her 
promise faithfully. 

Willing as she always was to forward 
any wish of Egmont's, it must be admitted 
that she prosecuted the idea of filling the 
house at Christmas-time with an energy 
and persistence most unusual in her. She 
coaxed her father into consent, reasoned 



LADY LAURA. 29 

away all her mother's objections, — pro- 
mising to take upon herself all trouble 
of preparation and responsibility of en- 
tertainment, — was seized with a sudden 
passion for charades and dancing, and 
contrived to communicate her enthusiasm 
to Cassandra. She found an imexpected 
ally in Khoos, whose view, expressed in 
a letter from Paris, was that Christmas 
being a dreary infliction to be borne 
somehow, it was desirable to have a lot 
of people in the house during the festival 
to drown melancholy in noise — as Indians 
are said to collect tum-tum men around 
their Suttee sacrifices. He even promised 
to make the gathering a condition of his 
presence at Ardgwen ; and by this stroke 
quite vanquished Lady St. Asaph, who 
would have invited all England to her 
house if by so doing she could have 
ensured getting her son to come at the 
Christmas season. 



30 LADY LAURA. 

The only point in the programme that 
they failed to carry between them was 
the ball. Lord St. Asaph could be got 
to look with favour on the assembling of 
a merry party of young people under his 
roof, so long as it was well understood 
that it was a family party ; but a ball to 
which all the county should be formally 
invited was not to be thought of. The 
idea of the ball was therefore abandoned, 
or rather, like many great ideas that 
have startled the world from the Empire 
of Alexander downwards, it disappeared 
in its integrity to be revived in less 
imposing parts. It seemed sufficiently 
within the term of a family party to need 
no new reference to he ad- quarters, that 
there should be informal dancing every 
other night in the old banqueting-hall, 
and that a few specially intimate friends 
from the neighbourhood should be in- 
vited to swell the number in the house. 



LADY LAURA. 31 

And with the tacit consent of their 
mother and the assumed acquiescence of 
their father, Egmont and Laui'a rode 
from house to house, giving verbal invita- 
tions for one night or another to almost 
all the people whom they had originally- 
thought of asking together. Festivities 
were to begin a few days before Christ- 
mas and to be kept up actively till New 
Year's Day, when the guests would 
disperse and the party from Ardgwen 
were invited for a few days to Llanoun — 
the Tremadocs being unable to spend 
Christmas at the castle. 

And so when Heme arrived on Christ- 
mas Eve he found the household entirely 
metamorphosed. In place of the quiet 
family circle with whom he had grown 
intimate during his autumn visit, he 
found a houseful of people, almost all 
strange to him, but intimate with one 
another with the intimacy of blood- 



32 LADY LAURA. 

relationship. There was a strong county 
and family tone about the house ; con- 
versation ran in family channels of dis- 
cussion of people unknown to him and of 
interests in which he had no part. For 
though the Gwynnes were open-minded 
and could look beyond the windows of 
their castle upon the world of human 
interests, they belonged enough to their 
own world to fall naturally into its tone 
on suitable occasions. Heme felt him- 
self an outsider, and though his hosts 
were uniformly kind and friendly to 
him, he had a sense of being neglected. 
His especial grievance, though he would 
not allow it to himself, was that Lam-a 
was almost inaccessible. Young lady 
cousins engrossed her all the morning, 
cousins of the other sex were eager to 
secure her as a partner in the evening 
dances, to be at her side on horseback, 
or hold her hand on the ice; nephews 



LADY LAURA. 33 

and nieces took possession of her at 
luncheon, and by their constant demands 
upon her attention made it impossible 
for her to join in general conversation. 
Heme could have forgiven her for being 
constantly engaged, but he could not 
forgive her for looking so happy while 
he was feeling mortified. 

He was not, however, quite without 
consolation. For on the rare occasions 
when they were thrown together in such 
a way as made conversation inevitable, 
he could not but observe that her manner 
towards him was different fi'om her man- 
ner towards others. She seemed more 
eager to talk and less content to be 
merely talked to, as if she cared that he 
should really know her thought : whereas, 
with others, she seemed only concerned 
to hear what they had to say and to give 
such sympathy as they might require. 
For instance, she would begin suddenly, 

VOL. n. 3 



34 LADY LAURA. 

' Oh Mr. Heme, I have been wanting to 
tell you,' — and then would follow a little 
story of her experience since they had 
met, bearing on something he had said ; 
or an allusion to a book he had recom- 
mended : delightful indications that she 
distinguished him among the others, and 
that his influence had become one of the 
continuous threads of her existence. 

It was a pity he could not know that 
when she was smiling most sweetly upon 
others and entering gaily into conver- 
sation for which he did not care, the 
sweetness and radiance that tormented 
him owed their origin to his presence, 
under the influence of which she felt 
herself expanding into fuller enjoyment 
than she had known for weeks ; — a pity, 
not only for his sake, but for Laura's, 
w^hose gladness was many a time checked 
by seeing him looking depressed and 
abstracted. ' Like a mute at a wedding,' 



LADY LAURA. 35 

Egmont said, — and lie added that he 
should have given him credit for being 
able to enjoy himseK Hke a reasonable 
man, and that he was beginning to think 
him a prig after all. But Laura felt 
rebuked by his gravity, and found her- 
seK once more questioning her own right 
to be happy. 

It was New Year's Eve, the day before 
the party was to break up. The hall was 
decorated with flowers and evergreens ; 
wax-lights burned in the old silver 
sconces on the walls ; the number of 
dancers was double what it had been on 
any former night. It was almost a ball ; 
and all the more successful for its im- 
promptu character, which kept down ex- 
pectation and disposed everybody to be 
easily gratified. Musicians had been 
hired from Cresford, and Cassandra, who 
had hitherto taken on herself the part of 
playing, was free to dance among the rest. 



36 LADY LAURA. 

She was looking more than usually hand- 
some, and winning as much admiration 
as Laura herself. People amused them- 
selves with discussing which was the more 
beautiful — some giving the palm to the 
girlish charms of Laura, others to the 
more mature beauty of Cassandra. 

Maurice Heme, standing moodily in a 
doorway, watched first one and then the 
other with wondering annoyance. The 
scene looked foolish to him, as scenes of 
frivolity are apt to look when we are out 
of temper ; and it passed his understand- 
ing that sensible people should find 
delight in it. He had not danced him- 
self for years — he had got out of the 
habit of ball-going in his hard-working 
days and had never resumed it. And 
though his abstinence was mainly the 
result of circumstances, that did not 
prevent his regarding the enjoyment of 
others from a position of critical supe- 



LADY LAURA. yj 

riority. As the Frenchman decided that 
music was an illusion when old age 
had deprived him of hearing, so Heme, 
having forgotten the pleasures of rhythmic 
movement, judged that to whirl one 
another round on a poHshed floor was a 
pastime in which only fools could find 
satisfaction. I hope it will not be con- 
sidered an inconsistency in him that he 
rather envied the fools in their folly. 

Laura came up and asked him why he 
did not dance, 

* You cannot think how delightful it is 
on this smooth oak floor. It is like 
swimming away into heaven. . . . But I 
believe you think it silly, — if not wrong,' 
she added wistfully. 

* Not in the least ; I merely envy those 
who enjoy it.' 

* But why should not you enjoy it ? It 
is much better to enjoy than to envy. 
WiU you let me find you a partner ? 



38 LADY LAURA. 

You shall have Eva Courtenay, who 
dances like a fairy.' 

' Is it too much to ask that you should 
take my conversion in hand yourself? 
Will you give me the next dance ? ' 
* I wish I could, hut I am engaged.' 
^ And for the dance after that ? ' 
^ I am afraid I am engaged for all 
the rest of the evening. But do ask 
Eva.' 

Eva Courtenay was the prettiest of a 
trio of pretty, fair-haired girls — nieces of 
Lord St. Asaph — who were staying in the 
house. Egmont had been paying her 
great attention throughout the visit, and 
they had danced almost every dance 
together that evening. Now, however, 
she appeared to be disengaged, and was 
sitting by her mother while couples were 
sorting themselves and getting into place. 
But as Laura spoke, Egmont was seen 
approaching her, and Heme said, — 



LADY LAURA. 39 

' You see Miss Courtenay is also en- 
gaged. It is too late for repentance.' 

Then Laura's partner claimed her, and 
Heme, falling back into the doorway, 
saw her carried past him in the dance. 

* Since when have you renounced 
dancing ? ' asked Cassandra's voice in 
an amused tone. She was sitting on a 
bench near the door and had overheard 
the little dialogue with Laura. 

' Since I lost the power of enjoying it. 
It is a taste one outgrows.' 

* 1 have not outgrown it yet, and I have 
had more of it than you have.' 

* I can only congratulate you on your 
more enduring youth.' 

^ Pray don't look so melancholy,' said 
Cassandra ; ^ your tragic air is attracting 
general attention. An old lady has been 
asking Khoos confidentially who the 
sombre-looking man standing in the 
doorway is ; and I have had to give up 



40 LADY LAURA. 

this dance in order to reassure her about 
you. She thought you must be plotting 
instant destruction of Church and State, 
and was on the point of ordering her 
carriage before supper.' 

* It is my misfortune to look savage 
when I am bored.' 

^But why be bored when everybody 
else is happy ? ' 

^ I was meditating on the hackneyed 
theme of mutability.' 

^The occasion that suggested it 
being ?' 

^ The difference in the appearance of 
this house to-night and when I was here 
in the autumn.' 

* And of course you think the change 
is not for the better ? ' 

^ I certainly found it pleasanter in the 
autumn. I am out of my element in 
the midst of all this rejoicing.' 

^Eejoicing is the right thing at 



LADY LAURA. 41 

Christmas-time,' said Cassandra. ' I 
like it.' 

Heme shrugged his shoulders. ' Again 
I can only congratulate you.' 

He spoke with an air of profound 
dejection, at which Cassandra could not 
refrain from smiling. 

* I seem to amuse you,' he said. 

^ Yes, you do. You remind me of old 
times and tempt me to give myself airs 
again and lecture you. Shall I ? ' 

' By all means. You will make me 
feel young again.' 

^ And am I to he candid — to speak the 
truth and the whole truth ? ' 

* Certainly.' 

' For instance, may I say that I think 
it is rather unreasonable of you to be put 
out at finding yourself a less important 
person here now than you were six 
months ago ? ' 

Cassandi'a gave her homethrust in a 



42 LADY LAURA. 

bantering tone, and then looked np apolo- 
getically, doubtful how it would be taken. 

* You are as unmerciful as ever,' said 
Heme. 

' I am rude,' she said. 

But she did not look rude. Her face 
wore an expression of affectionate solici- 
tude, and there were tears in her eyes. 

She repeated, 'I was rude, and I beg 
your pardon. To tell the truth, I quite 
agree with you in hating nothing s o 
much as a houseful of people that I 
don't know. But I do happen to know 
these people, and I can enjoy myself 
among them. Besides, I have an in- 
satiable love of dancing.' 

^ You would have liked to dance this ? ' 

* I would rather talk.' 

' What shall we talk about ? ' 
' Anything you like. Do you know, 
by-the-by, that you have a great deal to 
answer for with regard to Egmont ? 



LADY LAURA. 43 

He has changed his politics and become 
a Liberal since he made your ac- 
quaintance, and he is continually coming 
out with startling notions which he backs 
up with your authority. You have be- 
come a sort of pope with him.' 

Heme laughed. And then going back 
to the subject of his own thoughts, he 
said, — 

^ I am coming round to your opinion 
that friendship is a mistake between 
people who belong to different worlds.' 

^I am afraid it is,' said Cassandra; 
* or rather it is an impossibility. To be 
friends, people must have a common 
ground in their every-day life. And yet 
I don't know that the truth of the matter 
is not that the consciousness of belonging 
to different worlds only lasts till people 
have become friends.' 

^ Certainly,' said Heme, ^ there have 
been strong friendships between people 



44 LADY LAURA. 

at opposite poles of society ; and not 
friendships only, but marriages which 
have proved happy.' 

Cassandra was doubting what to an- 
swer, when the music stopped, and the 
dancers interrupted then* Ute-d-Ute by 
passing through the door to seek cooler 
air in the galleries and on the stau'case. 

But Heme was not disposed to be inter- 
rupted altogether. It was the first time 
Cassandra had allowed herself to be drawn 
into anything like intimate talk with him 
since he had arrived. She had been 
designedly repellent in her manner to- 
wards him, warding off by an air of studied 
indifference the danger of being led into 
any betrayal of her real feelings. And, 
as it was her good or ill fortune to be an 
excellent actress. Heme had been taken 
in. He believed that his early love for 
her had died long ago, and he had never 
thought that she had repaid it with more 



LADY LAURA. 45 

than friendsliip. But he had vahied her 
friendship, and it was not without regret 
that he observed her determination to 
keep him at a distance. He would not 
let slip this opportunity of recovering 
their old footing. 

' Shall we move too ? ' he said, ofiering 
her his arm and leading her, not towards 
the galleries whither the dancers were 
making their way, but across the stone 
passage into the library where no one 
was. 

Cassandra let herself be led away 
without reflecting that she was drifting 
into the very danger that she had been 
taking so much trouble to avoid. Her 
mind at the moment was turned upon 
another danger — not to herself — which she 
was anxious if pospble to avert. During 
the six weeks that had passed between 
Heme's two visits she had come to see 
his attitude towards Laura in another 



46 LADY LAURA. 

light than that in which it had first 
struck her. It was clear to her that 
Laura's feelings were seriously engaged, 
but it was by no means clear to her that 
happiness would result from the attach- 
ment. She foresaw opposition from Lord 
St. Asaph, besides other difficulties which 
appeared to her insuperable. Heme's 
allusion to marriages between people at 
opposite social poles suggested to her 
the possibility of saying a word of timely 
warning. As they sat down in the empty 
room she said, — 

^ You were going to speak of marriages 
between people who belong to different 
worlds. I think they make a case apart 
from friendship ; for in marriage one world 
or the other must be given up,— either 
husband or wife adopting the life of 
the other. But I should think that it 
was generally a dangerous experiment. 
Few natures are vigorous enough to 



LADY LAURA. 47 

thrive in an atmosphere that is wholly 
foreign.' 

She waited for him to answer, but he 
was silent ; and she repented having 
spoken, wishing herself back among the 
others. 

^ Are you going to Llanoun ? ' she 
asked, abruptly. 

* I am. Are you ? ' 

* No ; I have had rejoicing enough.' 

^ But surely this is a sudden determina- 
tion. Lady Laura told me you were to 
be there.' 

'■ I have written to Sarah that I am not 
coming.' 

* But that is a pity. Can't you be per- 
suaded to change your mind ? ' 

* Much would depend on the arguments 
used.' 

^ If I said that it was a great dis- 
appointment to me that you would not 
be there, would that have any effect ? ' 



48 LADY LAURA. 

* No,' she said, a sudden resentment 
mastering her. ^ It would not make the 
slightest difference, because I should not 
believe it.' 

Heme was not sure whether she was 
in jest or earnest ; and, had her presence 
of mind not deserted her, she might yet 
have made a safe retreat. But she had 
spoken under the influence of one of 
those impulses common to passionate 
natures, that urge them to break down 
shams and face real issues in naked 
truthfulness ; and having spoken, she 
felt that further dissimulation was use- 
less, and she went on recklessly. 

^ Maurice,' she said bitterly, ^ why 
should we play at hide-and-seek to- 
gether — we who understand one another 
so well ? You need not be afraid. I have 
no intention of speaking of myself beyond 
asking you not to insult me any more 
with insincere speeches like your last. 



LADY LAURA. 49 

It is about Laura that I am going to 
speak. You are playing with her un- 
fairly — you are upsetting her peace of 
mind without having any definite pros- 
pect of being able to restore it. You 
know that you are not in a position to 
marry her, — that my uncle would turn 
you out of the house if you proposed 
such a thing, — and yet you hang about 
her and let her get fond of you. Of 
your own part in it I say nothing, though 
it is pitiable enough that you should 
waste your time in dreaming about a 
woman who is utterly out of your reach. 
It is of her happiness that I am thinking. 
.... You are going to Llanoun. 
Have you realised what you are doing ? 
Have you considered that Laura cannot 
be your wife without either outraging all 
the traditions of her family or being a 
stranger at your hearth ? If she were 
to adopt your views she would cut her- 

VOL. II. 4 



50 LADY LAURA. 

self off from her own people — if she 
did not adopt them, you would both be 
miserable. It is folly to think of it ! ' 

* But I tell you/ said Heme, ^ that I 
have not thought of it.' 

' Then I say it is greater folly still to 
drift into danger without thinking of it.' 

* Are you sure the danger does not lie 
wholly in your imagination ? ' 

' My imagination shows it me perhaps, 
but it does not create it. Imagination 
is no bad prophet ; and if I have too 
much, I only wish I could give you a 
little of it in place of some of your 
short-sighted man's wisdom.' 

^ I think you are presuming too much 
upon our friendship, Cassandra. . . .' 

He began severely, but his tone quickly 
changed; and Cassandra felt that it was 
in tenderness and not in anger that he 
broke off. She answered sadly, — 

* It is possible. But I care for Laura, 



LADY LAURA. 51 

and I cannot be silent when I feel that 
to speak may perhaps save her from the 
misery that I foresee for her in any 
development of her feeling for you. Yes, 
I say it advisedly — misery. You do not 
know her as I know her ; and you think, 
perhaps, because she talks little of her 
reHgious beliefs and is happy in small 
things, that she is indifferent to greater 
ones. But you are mistaken. Hers is 
just one of those sensitive minds to 
which, while the world is what it is, 
some faith in a better world is a neces- 
sary condition of happiness. She is 
happy now almost without knowing why, 
but if you took from her her belief 
in God and Heaven she would wither 
like a flower in drought. And if you 
think that she would be content to 
worship without you, I tell you again 
that you are mistaken. And I know 
what I am talking about. I know what 



LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OF ILUWOfe 



52 LADY LAURA. 

it is to stand alone, to believe alone. . . . 
I know it as you cannot know it — as only 
those can know who have been lonely 
all their lives .... Oh, Maurice !....' 

She broke down suddenly, and the last 
word came with a sob. 

She had not meant to speak of herself, 
she had said truly that it was love for 
Laura and solicitude on her account that 
had prompted her to speak her warning. 
For during the last few weeks she had 
faced and conquered the unworthy 
jealousy that had taken her soul by 
storm in the hour when she reahsed 
that Maurice's affection was transferred 
from herself to her cousin : she had 
put her foot upon the neck of her un- 
requited love and trampled it in the 
dust of repentance. But our mortified 
egoisms live on underfoot, writhing be- 
neath the pressure of our will, ready 
to start up again the moment our watch- 



LADY LAURA. 53 

fulness, is relaxed, and surprise us 
perhaps in some cunning disguise of dis- 
interested care for tlie welfare of another. 
Affection for Laura had been the 
prompter. But the cue given, words had 
come to her as to an actor who has 
brooded over his part till each pregnant 
word calls up the next, and the effort of 
memory is reduced to kindling the first 
of a chain of linked emotions. It was 
her own experience that had taught her 
to fear for her cousin; how then could 
she plead for Laura without pleading in- 
directly for herself ? How could thoughts 
forged in the fire of her own trial find 
utterance and not show marks of their 
origin ? 

In thinking she could speak and yet 
keep her secret, she had over-estimated 
her strength ; and she read her failure 
in the compassion that looked from 
Maurice's eyes. 



54 LADY LAURA. 

Her words came to him as an appeal 
from a soul in anguish, and with them a 
rush of influence from the past went over 
him — strong, irresistible as the avalanche 
that sweeps the mountain's side with the 
force of a long winter's gathered snows. 

^ Cassandra,' he said in a low voice, 
^ you have only to say one word, and I 
will stay away from Llanoun, and Laura 
shall be saved from all risk of pain. 
I am sincere now, and it rests with 
you to keep me so. Will you believe 
me?' 

He was bending over her. She felt 
his breath upon her forehead; his hand 
was laid on hers. But her eyes were fixed 
upon her lap. She dared not lift them 
to meet his. 

^ Cassandra,' he said again, ' will you 
trust me ? ' 

The tones of his voice thrilled her like 
exquisite music. But she could not 



LADY LAURA. 55 

answer. Wonder, joy, shame held her 
fast. ... 

^ Cassandi'a,' said another voice, — 
Laura's, — speaking from the door. 

And Cassandra made haste to dis- 
engage her hand, pretending confusedly 
that a bracelet had got unclasped and 
was being adjusted. 

'■ I have been looking for you every- 
where,' said Laura. * We want to dance 
Sir Eoger, and Ehoos says he is engaged 
to you and will not dance with anybody 
else. Come quickly, we are all waiting.' 

The two women went away together — 
Laura apparently without having even 
noticed Heme's presence, Cassandra 
without giving him a parting look. 

An hour later the hall was deserted, 
the wax candles were blown out and 
stood corpse-hke in their sconces. Move- 
ment of bright dancers and murmur 
of voices were gone, and the great 



56 LADY LAURA. 

chamber was once more tenanted by the 
silence and emptiness that were its 
usual occupants. The last carriage 
had rolled away through falling snow ; 
the ladies of the house had retired to 
their rooms ; the men were lingering over 
the hall-fire, preparatory to a retreat to 
the smoking-room. 

* Where is Heme ? ' asked Ehoos. 

^ He went to bed an horn' ago with 
a bad headache/ said Egmont. * He 
seemed out of sorts all the evening, and 
he asked me to make his excuses if any 
one noticed his absence. Heigh-ho ! 
let's have a smoke.' 




CHAPTEE III. 

' When a man is disappointed in a woman, it pleases- 
him to think her hateful and to pray to be delivered from 
her. But to have loved a woman once is to have a capa- 
city for loving her again. 

' Now to love life is like loving a woman.' 

IaSSANDKA did not go to bed 
after the dance. She sat 
through the hours between 
night and morning, looking out on the 
white snow scene. And as she watched 
the slow fall of flake on flake, she seemed 
to gather a sad consolation from the 
noiseless monotony of their descent. 
Like the merciful veil of forgetfulness in 
death to the fevered folHes of human 
life, seemed that white covering settHng 



58 LADY LAURA. 

silently on hill and valley and garden 
lawn, and wrapping in a common garment 
of loveliest purity castle and cottage and 
spreading tree and creeping ivy. 

^ Oh if I could only die to-night ! ' she 
murmured to herseK — ' die and escape 
the shame of to-morrow — die and be 
forgiven for all my blunders, and remem- 
bered only as the dead are, with tender- 
ness and pity. Oh if I could only die 
and be at rest ! ' 

Poor troubled spirit — the rest of death 
is far away from you as yet ! Far from 
those vigorous rounded limbs through 
which the pulses of life send the blood 
coursing with such force that even in the 
fireless room where the water is freezing 
in the ewer, the hands that grasp each 
other in the darkness are warm to 
their own touch; far from the glowing 
beauty of the face that presses itself in 
agony against the window-pane ; very far 



LADY LAURA. 59 

from the busy activity of the brain that 
gives such intolerable point to suffering, 
and scares away rest by its impatience of 
the inevitable pauses of life. Death is 
not coming yet. To-morrow and many 
morrows more must be met, with the 
shame they may bring, and the sorrow, 
and the joy. The hom-s pass slowly, and 
the church clock sounds their flight with 
a dull uncertain voice at intervals that 
seem like centuries ; but they are passing 
sm^ely, and the morning will come from 
beyond the hills, and you will be full 
of life and health to meet it, and you 
will wrestle with it as you have wrestled 
with the long train of yesterdays that 
lie behind you — wounded often and nigh 
to despau', but never quite overthrown 
or wholly without hope. And you will 
rejoice in the blue sky and the sunshine 
and the sparkle of the diamond under- 
foot ; and you will thank death for having 



6o LADY LAURA. 

spared you, and love life again despite 
the shame. Nay, are you not beginning 
to love it again already as you watch the 
successive kindling of lights in cottage 
bedrooms where labourers are wakening 
to the day's toil? Is there not in the 
feeble radiation of those smoky candles 
a message of sympathy that pierces the 
dark loneliness of your heart and calls 
you back to fellowship with lives of men 
and women whom you know, and have 
helped many a time in their hour of 
trouble, and are planning even now to 
help again ? Can you be heartily praying 
for death and quite sated with the light 
of living day while that glad smile breaks 
over your tired face at sight of what is 
happening on the top of the eastern 
slope ? 

The snow-flakes have ceased to fall, 
and the dim sky-curtain is suffused with 
fairest radiance. The snow on the pine- 



LADY LAURA. 6i 

tops is tui-ned to tawny gold, and the 
grey old castle glitters like an aerial 
palace of glass. Morning has come at 
last ; and its lap is full of healthful in- 
fluences of work and hope and interest. 

Cassandra rouses herself and strikes a 
light; for in spite of the gilding on the 
hill-top and the bright reflection from the 
outer snow, the room is too dim for the 
operations of the toilet to he carried on 
without the help of a candle. 

She looks at her watch that lies on 
the table where she laid it last evening 
before dressing for the dance at the 
castle ; it has stopped, she must have 
neglected to wind it up on coming home. 
She strips herself hastily of her ball-gown 
and ornaments, and dresses herself in her 
usual morning gown. She moves quickly 
about the room, doing each little office 
with precision and energy, but with a 
mind apparently intent upon other things. 



62 LADY LAURA. 

Her movements are stremious because a 
strong resolution is forming in lier mind, 
but the resolution has nothing to do with 
the trivial acts to which it lends its 
character. 

By the time she is dressed the church 
clock strikes eight; she sets her watch 
by it and then sits down and writes a 
short note. There are hardly a dozen 
lines in it and they are written without 
hesitation, for they embody the thought 
that has been taking shape in her mind 
ever since the light began to dawn upon 
the castle slope. They are a translation 
into daylight sanity of the wild longing 
of the night for death and oblivion : — 

^Will you try to forget what passed 
last night ? I was weak, and my weak- 
ness betrayed me into mad words. I 
only ask you now to make no attempt 
to see me before you go to Llanoun, and 



LADY LAURA, 63 

to remember that it is in your power to 
hurt Laura. — C. G.' 

She folds the note without even read- 
ing it through, as if she feared the 
temptation to destroy it. Then, wrap- 
ping herself in a cloak, she goes out into 
the passage where the housemaid is busy 
with her broom, down the staircase, and 
forth into the white outside world. The 
rectory does not breakfast till nine, and 
if she walks briskly she will have time to 
carry her note to the castle and get home 
again before the family assembles for 
prayers. 

Very cheerless the scene looked now, 
for the brightness of dawn had faded 
from the sky which stretched overhead, 
an unbroken sheet of dingy grey. The 
snow was falling again, and the flakes 
settled fast on her cloak and hat, and 
drifted coldly against her unprotected 



64 LADY LAURA. 

face. But she did not heed them. She 
walked resolutely on with an expression 
of sad but firm purpose that seemed in 
harmony with the grim sunlessness of 
the scene. 

The note was delivered to a footman 
in shirt-sleeves, who promised to give it 
to Heme as soon as he should be up, 
and looked not a little surprised to see 
Cassandra abroad so early after the 
dissipation of last night. And when Mrs. 
Gwynne came down with the keys of the 
tea-chest, Cassandra was already in the 
dining-room, waiting for breakfast and 
ready to talk over the incidents of the 
dance, as if there had been no special 
incident of which the remembrance was 
painful to her. 

But when breakfast was over she put 
her cloak on again, and without saying a 
word to any one, went forth once more 
into the snow — not this time on a definite 



LADY LAURA, 65 

errand, but merely that she might spend 
in physical exercise the throbbing energy 
within her, and find soothing for her pain 
among the sweeping curves of hill-lines 
and the soughing of snow-laden pine- 
branches. 

She walked up the hill that faced the 
castle, and when she reached the top she 
paused for a few minutes, sending her 
eye along the path she had taken before 
breakfast as if she expected to see some 
one retracing the track of her footsteps 
in the snow. But if so, her glance was 
disappointed ; for it was not till she was 
haKway down the other side of the hill 
that Maurice left the breakfast-table, 
saying that he was going to the rectory 
to take leave of his uncle and aunt 
before starting for Llanoun. 



VOL. n. 



CHAPTER IV. 



^He swears that all the men of his country are 
constant. ' 

* Marry then, I think that one of them swears false.' 
*His reason is that all the women are of one com- 
plexion.' 

* Marry then, I think he may speak truth.' 

ASSANDEA is out,' said Anna 
Gwynne as Heme was ushered 
into the rectory drawing-room. 
^ She has gone on one of her mad errands 
through the snow.' She spoke in the 
even, inexpressive tones that were 
hahitual with her — looking her cousin 
straight in the face, but without betray- 
ing any special curiosity or suspicion. 




LADY LAURA. 67 

Heme however knew her too well to 
doubt the point of her announcement. 
He understood what she meant him to 
understand, namely that she was per- 
fectly aware that he had come there 
for the purpose of seeing Cassandra, 
and that Cassandra had gone out in 
order to avoid him. He knew also that 
ideas, once admitted into Anna's mind, 
were not easily displaced, and he made 
no attempt directly or indirectly to dis- 
claim the object of his visit. He merely 
said, — 

^ I hope your father and mother are 
not out too. I have come to say good- 
bye before starting for Llanoun.' 

^ No, they are at home — I will tell 
them you are here.' And Anna went 
out of the room to summon her parents. 
She returned in a minute saying they 
would come presently — her father was 
giving instructions to the clerk about 



68 LADY LAURA. 

the week's services, her mother was 
ordering dinner. She sat down on an 
armless chair at some distance from 
Heme, and, taking some needlework 
from her pocket, began sewing dili- 
gently — leaving it to him to find con- 
versation. 

* How is it that neither you nor Cas- 
sandra are going to Llanoun ? ' he asked. 

Addressed to Anna, the question was 
a safe one ; there was no danger of her 
being carried into one of those embarrass- 
ing utterances of the whole truth to 
which Cassandra was prone. Anna, like 
all people of narrow outlook, had an 
instinctive and quite unconscious dis- 
like of truth — that is to say, of all truth 
that she had not weighed and measured 
and followed in thought into its utter- 
most consequences. She prided her- 
self on being matter-of-fact, and limited 
fact to matter within her own ken. 



LADY LAURA. 69 

And thongh her want of imagination 
prevejited her from ever seeing anything 
in a true light, she believed herseK to 
be the one entirely truthful person in 
the world. 

She answered Heme's question with- 
out lifting her eyes from her work. 

^ 1 do not go because I take no interest 
in Sarah's hobbies, and they are always 
more than usually rampant at this time 
of the year. And as for Cassandra, her 
reasons are always beyond the compre- 
hension of the rest of the family. For 
my part, I have given up trying to 
understand them.' 

The steely coldness of her tone 
connected itself in Heme's mind with 
Cassandra's appeal of the night before for 
those whom fate has made lonely in their 
lives. He looked at Anna with amaze- 
ment, as wondering that any woman 
should be so little human, and felt 



70 LADY LAURA. 

a deepened compassion for Cassandra. 

And yet Anna was perhaps not less 
entitled to sympathy than Cassandra. 
She suspected rightly that Cassandra's 
staying away from Llanoun had refer- 
ence to something that had gone wrong 
in her relations with Mamice, hut what 
that something was she was unable to 
guess. And she was hurt that Cas- 
sandra had not confided in her. Not un- 
naturally ; for we cannot expect people to 
recognise their incapacity for the part 
of confidant when the very cause of it 
lies in their defect of the delicate percep- 
tions and quick sympathies that belong 
to a wide-ranging imagination. If it was 
impossible for Cassandra to unbosom her- 
self to Anna, it was equally impossible for 
Anna not to resent Cassandra's reserve. 
There would seem to be in the world an 
irreconcilable quarrel between width and 
narrowness to which one can see no end 



LADY LAURA. 71 

save in the final strangling or absorption 
of one or other force ; and, in the mean- 
while, it is difficult to say on which side 
justice and mercy oftenest fail. 

Heme took up a book and made no 
further attempt at conversation. Anna 
stitched on industriously. 

It was a relief when Mrs. Gwynne 
came in full of affectionate greetings 
and cheery interest in the expedition to 
Llanoun. She was sorry Anna and Cas- 
sandra were not going — but there was 
no use in her saying anything. They 
were both so much firmer than she was, 
and no doubt had good reasons for 
staying at home — there was always a 
great deal to be done at this time of 
the year with the clothing-club and 
coal-club, and now that Lady St. Asaph 
was so much taken up with Lord St. 
Asaph she did not know what she 
should do if her daughters did not help 



72 LADY LAURA. 

her. Still she was sorry. It would 
have been a pleasant time for them, and 
she would have enjoyed thinking of 
them all together at Llanoun. How 
long was Maurice going to stay there ? — 
had he ever been there before ? No ? — 
then he would be very much interested. 
Sarah was so clever in her arrange- 
ments. Her home was quite an Utopia 
— so indeed was the whole parish. And 
Mr. Tremadoc was such a kind, pleasant 
person. Perhaps it was quite as well 
that he did not go quite so far as some 
people did about reform, — it was a sort 
of check on Sarah. Indeed Mrs. Gwynne 
sometimes thought that it was owing 
to his influence that Sarah was so much 
the most charming of the three sisters — 
though they were all charming in their 
way. But she could not help thinking 
that Mary was a little too scientific 
and political for a woman, and that 



LADY LAURA. 73 

Kacliel would do more good if she 
concentrated her energies on some in- 
dividual parish instead of belonging to 
so many Societies. But then, to be 
sure, Eachel lived in London almost all 
the year and had not the same oppor- 
tunities as her sister. One laust not 
judge. . . . 

Mrs. Gwynne talked on pleasantly, 
taking kindly views of everything and 
everybody, while Anna sat back, sewing 
with undivided attention, and Heme 
just put in a word here and there. If 
he had shown any inclination to talk afc 
greater length, Mrs. Gwynne would have 
been as content to listen as she now was 
to talk. She always took the part in life 
that was left by others, and cheerfully 
made the best of it. She talked on till 
her husband came in, with his great-coat 
on and his hat in his hand, to ask her 
what in the world she had done with 



74 LADY LAURA. 

the accounts of the clothing-ckib. He 
wanted them instantly, and it was really 
most annoying that his papers never 
could be left where he put them. 

What Mrs. Gwynne had done with the 
accounts was to keep them very carefully 
all the year round and to balance them 
accurately only ten days ago. They were 
safely and handily stored in a drawer 
of her writing-table, and were produced 
without a moment's delay. Mr. Gwynne 
took them impatiently, just glanced at the 
last written page, gave a grunt which 
seemed to say that, thank Heaven, they 
were not this time in such utter confusion 
as might have been expected ; and was 
going out of the room without having 
spoken a word to Heme. When the 
rector was busy he was not very mindful 
of the dues of others, especially of people 
against whom he had a grudge. 

His wife recalled him to courtesy : 



LADY LAURA. 75 

* Harvey, you are forgetting that Maurice 
will be gone before you come in.' 

* Oh, I thought you would be here to 
luncheon probably,' he said, taking his 
wife's hint, without, however, acknow- 
ledging it by look or gesture. (The part 
left for Mrs. Gwynne in married life 
included much trouble and Httle thanks.) 
'I'm sorry I cannot stay, but I'm 
obhged to walk up to the schools imme- 
diately. I suppose it would not suit you 
to walk so far with me ? ' 

The invitation was not given very 
graciously, but Heme accepted it all the 
same, not being deshous of prolonging 
his visit at the rectory. He walked up 
to the schools with his uncle, who dis- 
coursed much, by the way, on the impos- 
sibility of getting anything to go right 
in a parish where Methodism had once 
set its foot. 'I declare,' he said, warming 
to his subject and growing confidential 



76 LADY LAURA. 

in the absence of contradiction, — for 
Heme, absorbed by other thoughts, did 
not trouble himself to argue, but listened 
in silence, which his uncle was at liberty 
to interpret as he liked, — ^ I declare I 
would rather they were all rank atheists 
— one knows what to be at with a man 
like Heasman there. But these ranters, 
with their texts and their hypocritical 
psalm-singing, bewilder the people till 
they don't know their right hand from 
their left, and can't see that insubordina- 
tion isn't Christianity. And what in- 
creases tenfold the difficulty of dealing 
with them is that you can never get a 
woman to see this question of dissent in 
a reasonable light.' It was ungrateful 
of Mr. Gwynne to say this, for Anna 
saw the question in exactly the same 
light that he did, which was what he 
meant by a reasonable light. But the 
rector was of an exacting temper that 



LADY LAURA. yj 

disposed him to value little the easily 
won agreement of persons like minded 
with himself ; he regarded their opinions 
as mere subsidiary clauses included in his 
own convictions, while the opinions of 
those who did not agree with him, though 
worthless in themselves, were so many 
affronts to his importance which he could 
not afford to overlook. The result was 
that the feelings of Mrs. Gwynne and 
Cassandra were taken as representative 
of the feelings of all women, while 
those of Anna were simply ignored. So 
Mr. Gwynne considered that no woman 
could he got to see Dissent in its true 
colours, because as he told Maurice, 
^ Nothing that I can say will hinder my 
wife from behaving in the same way to 
the Dissenters and the Church people. 
And Cassandra is as bad ; she has not left 
me a moment's peace this week because 
I have advised my clerk,' — Mr. Gywnne 



78 LADY LAURA. 

always said mij clerk and my church 
and my schoolmaster, — ' because I have 
advised my clerk not to let a cottage 
of his, that has just fallen vacant, to a 
dissenting family up at the other end of 
the village. But I am forgetting that 
you will probably take her side.' 

^ I am afraid I should,' said Heme ; 
'but I have not time this morning to 
discuss the question. I ought to be 
getting back to the castle.' 

' Ah, well ! good-bye. I am glad to 
have seen you again. I suppose you are 
likely to be in these parts again some 
of these days ? ' 

* I suppose so,' said Heme, though in 
truth that was a point he had been 
revolving in his mind with much uncer- 
tainty, as he walked from the rectory to 
the school, and continued to revolve with 
unceasing perplexity in the course of the 
further walk from the school to the castle. 



LADY LAURA. 79 

Since last evening, he had come to 
see at least a prophetic truth in the 
words Cassandra had spoken on the 
evening of his first coming to Ardgwen. 
He had no business there, and must 
either make this visit his last or come 
back as the declared suitor of one or 
other of the women whose affections he 
had engaged. 

He had come to one of those cross- 
roads of life where every course points to 
an event for which, when it is accom- 
pHshed, we must ever feel remorse, though 
our self-reproach becoming articulate 
has no severer rebuke for us than the 
simple statement that we ought to have 
been elsewhere. The false position in 
which he undeniably stood towards both 
Laura and Cassandra was only so far his 
fault that it resulted from the inaction 
and indecision that had crippled all his 
career. It was one of those remote 



8o LADY LAURA. 

consequences of omission — sad children 
of our unfaithfulness — that persistently 
reveal themselves to our confusion and 
dishonour, claiming equal descent with 
the more creditable results of action 
to which we are so proud to give our 
name. We try to disown them, we 
appeal to the world whether they are 
like us — like our promises, our principles, 
our intentions. And the world answers 
with a sneer that they are very like us 
— like our weakness and our wayward- 
ness and our neglected opportunities. 
The parentage is proved, and the past 
hangs as a millstone round our neck. 

Heme hardly attempted to justify 
himself in his present dilemma. He was 
more concerned to discover the way out 
of it — more anxious if possible to console 
Cassandra than to establish that she 
was to blame for needing consolation. 
He could not turn with indifference 



I 



LADY LAURA, 8i 

from the desolate life that had cried 
involuntarily to his. He could not find 
much satisfaction in the reflection that, 
had her attitude been less enigmatical 
seven years ago, events would have taken 
a different course and their united lives 
might have achieved all that they had 
failed in singly. 

He asked himself why the union might 
not be even now. Cassandra was the 
same woman at thirty that he had loved 
at three-and-twenty. He still admired 
her, he still desired her friendship, he 
still courted her approval and winced 
under her reproach. But it was no 
longer Cassandra but Laura who ap- 
peared to him as the inspiring angel of 
new beginnings. 

Not that he had ever definitely pro- 
posed to himself to make Laura his 
wife ; the difficulties that Cassandra had 
pointed out with such merciless truth- 

VOL. II. 6 



82 LADY LAURA. 

fulness had been tacitly recognised by 
him all along, and though he could not 
conceal from himself that every thought 
of new effort had been lately linked with 
thought of Laura, he had been content 
hitherto to couple himself with her in 
vague dreams. Now however words had 
been spoken which brought the question 
out of the region of dreams. Cassandra 
had told him plainly that Laura cared 
for him, and it behoved him as an 
honourable man either to come forward 
definitely and take his chance of winning 
her in spite of the objections he anti- 
cipated from her family, or to withdraw 
altogether and allow her to recover 
from the impression he had made upon 
her feehngs before it had deepened to an 
enduring scar. 

His purpose in going to see Cassandra 
had not been very clearly stated t® 
himself. But he had hoped by a quiet 



LADY LAURA. 83 

interview with her to arrive at a more 
accurate measure of his feelings than 
he was conscious of possessing at pre- 
sent. Having missed her, lie thought 
the best thing he could do was to carry 
out his intention of going to Llanoun. 





OHAPTEE V. 

' The April's in lier eyes ; it is Love's spring, 
And these the showers to bring it on. ' 

LANOXIN was certainly a very- 
pleasant house to stay in and 
Lady Sarah a most charming 
hostess. So said all the world, and so 
thought Maurice Heme, to whom it 
seemed that in coming to the Tremadocs' 
he had travelled hack to the pleasant 
time of his autumn visit to Ardgwen. 

Lady Sarah received him with entire 
cordiality, taking up the subjects they 
had discussed together at the point 
where they had left them, and, by her 
eagerness to show him the working of 



LADY LAURA. 85 

her schemes and her solicitude for his 
approval of them, making him feel that 
her interest in him had been a genuine 
one, and not merely a passing fancy to be 
forgotten in a succession of other inter- 
com'ses. 

Lady Sarah was rather famous for 
her friendships. She attracted to herself 
people of marked individuality, and made 
firm alliances with them in spite of wide 
differences of character and conviction. 
She would say, ' I am I — you are you. 
I have no theories, I belong to no school. 
I never made a proselyte in my life and 
never mean to let any one make one of 
me. But it amuses me to look at the 
world through other people's spectacles, 
and I like all people who have the sense 
to be themselves.' What she liked in 
others she realised in her own Hfe, and 
her great charm probably came from the 
instinctive wisdom with which she always 



86 LADY LAURA. 

was herself. To it doubtless was due 
the great success that attended all her 
undertakings and seemed a quality of 
her mind communicating itself to her 
work rather than a happy crowning 
from without ; and fi'om it resulted a 
certain artistic completeness in her life 
and character which disarmed criticism 
and won approval even from those whose 
most cherished prejudices she ventured 
to oppose. Her frank disclaimer of any 
regulating principle beyond her taste and 
of any test outside experience, gave to 
all she said and did the character of an 
exception, which like all exceptions 
might be considered to prove the rule it 
broke. And so when she ran a tilt 
against conventionalities, the most con- 
ventional people felt that they might give 
a rare indulgence to their natural man 
and admire the hardy stroke, fearless of 
establishing a dangerous precedent. If 



LADY LAURA. 87 

she wanted to know people who were not 
entitled to be known in her section of 
society, she said, not ' The So-and-so's 
are worthy people and ought to be in- 
vited,' but ^ I like them, and I want to 
have them at my parties.' If she wished 
to reform the dress of her housemaid, 
she did not denounce the iniquity of 
fashion out of place, but attacked a 
special gown as unbecoming, and sug- 
gested in its place some garment of her 
own contriving, possibly a pattern from 
her own wardrobe which she had already 
recommended by wearing it herself. If 
she wanted her husband to make any 
new arrangements on his estate, to im- 
prove cottages or build new ones, she 
begged the reform as a gratification of a 
personal whim, and seldom failed to gain 
her point. And so it came about that, 
though she made no proselytes, she 
obtained much influence and made her 



88 LADY LAURA, 

mark on all around her. And at the 
same time, by dint of looking through 
other people's spectacles, she uncon- 
sciously borrowed much from minds un- 
like her own. Some conscious borrowing 
she did also, in the way of buying up 
waste talents and making people serve 
her ends without believing in them. All 
was grist that came to her mill, and 
many who had failed to make their 
talents serve ends of their own imagin- 
ing, or who lacked faith in any ends to 
serve, were glad to do journeyman's work 
under so confident a head. 

There was at this moment a large 
party assembled in the house. The 
Courtenays had come over with the 
party from Ardgwen, to the great satis- 
faction of Egmont, whose devotion to the 
pretty Eva was becoming serious. The 
"Walworths were there, and Lady Mary 
Vane. Then there was a sprinkling of 



LADY LAURA. 89 

friends from tlie outer world. Mr. Burr ell 
Jones, a London clerg}^man of liberal doc- 
trine and bright genial outlook — a mas- 
sive man with a splendid physique that 
disposed him to aesthetic enjoyment and 
coloured his Christianity with a refined 
sensuousness that was very attractive to 
a prosperous generation little incHned to 
quahfy itself for entrance into the gates 
of life by any process of maiming and 
halting. His wife, a graceful woman 
with pale wavy hair and placid smiles 
that passed for beauty with the help of 
a studiedly pictm^esque style of dress. 
A German lady who played the piano 
beautifully, but not quite beautifully 
enough to succeed professionally, as 
Lady Walworth had intended her to 
do, and who, having made her debut 
last season in that lady's drawing-room 
without creating the sensation that 
was hoped from her, had sunk back 



90 LADY LAURA. 

into obscurity, where Lady Scarah's 
friendship had come to her consolingly. 
And last but not least, Lady Sarah's 
sworn champion and ally, Mr. Walter 
Fenton, w^ho deserves to be introduced to 
the reader at greater length than the 
other guests. 

He w^as a man of miscellaneous talent 
and whimsical character whom society 
had once hailed as a genius, but had 
long given up as a riddle not to be 
solved. Some ten or tw^elve years ago 
he had gained a sudden fame as a painter 
by exhibiting at the Eoyal Academy a 
series of ideal heads of rare beauty. 
But since then he had done nothing, or 
at least had given nothing to the world. 
His studio was full of vague sketches and 
unfinished attempts, and to the few inti- 
mate friends who were admitted within 
it he was in the habit of defending his 
unproductiveness by comparing himself 



LADY LAURA. 91 

to the prophet who went out to curse 
and was constrained to bless, with the 
difference that in his case he tried to 
bless and succeeded only in cursing. He 
seemed to be dominated by a genius of 
despair. Gifted with a body and mind 
tremulously sensitive to every charm 
of beauty in the moral and physical 
world, he was unable to find enjoyment 
anywhere by reason of a mastering 
sense of the transient character of all 
good, of the blank purposelessness of 
life and the futility of endeavour : every 
idea turned to tragedy as he dwelt on it, 
and subjects, chosen for their beauty as 
worthy of representation in art, were one 
after another dismissed by him, always 
for the same reason that some latent 
ugliness had revealed itself. 

The friendship between Mr. Fenton 
and Lady Sarah was of old standing, 
dating as far back as her unmarried days. 



92 LADY LAURA. 

And some said that lie had then cherished 
a hopeless passion for her, and that it was 
her marriage with Mr. Tremadoc that was 
the death-hlow to his career as a painter. 
It may have been so, but Lady Sarah 
certainly did not suspect the attachment, 
and the frankness of their relations was 
never impaired by it — nor did it prevent 
a cordial friendship between him and 
Mr. Tremadoc. He stayed so frequently 
at Llanoun that he was generally looked 
upon as part of the family. The children 
were devoted to him, and showed their 
devotion, after the manner of children, 
by making him devote himself to them. 
He covered the nursery walls with quaint 
sketches, and enlivened nursery-teas by 
telling fantastic fairy - stories full of 
grotesque humour and subtle pathos, at 
which they laughed and cried in turn, 
missing nothing but the undertone of 
cynicism that was never absent from any- 



LADY LAURA. 93 

thing lie did or said. To Lady Sarah 
herself he was serviceable as a mediaeval 
knight to his mistress in chivalry, only 
his service was of a more useful kind 
than one fancies that of the errant 
knight to have been. He entered with 
a sort of impartial sympathy into her 
plans for the improvement of the people 
about her, shrugging his shoulders a 
little at her optimist views, but none the 
less ready to help her in carrying them 
out because he had no faith in their 
containing any lasting good. Lady 
Sarah was keen about popular education, 
and when first she came to Llanoun she 
had made great efforts to reform the 
teaching in the village schools. Without 
being at all a learned woman, she pos- 
sessed that general understanding of the 
scope and meaning of knowledge that 
cultured surroundings yield so readily to 
women of intelligencCj and her desire 



94 LADY LAURA. 

was that the knowledge, which she herself 
rather saw than grasped, should be im- 
parted in as full a measure as possible to 
all others. She had tried to start classes 
of elementary science, learning herself 
in order that she might teach; but 
between her own ignorance and the 
prejudice of others she had had little 
success, and for once in her life she was 
almost in despair. In her difficulty she 
had taken Mr. Fenton into counsel, and 
he had come very readily to her help, 
entering quickly into her ideas and tax- 
ing all his knowledge and his ingenuity 
to devise means for putting them into 
practice. From that time forward he 
was her constant counsellor in all her 
undertakings, and there was no smallest 
reform made among the villagers of 
Llanoun for which he was not largely 
responsible. It was a curious alliance 
this, between the practical-minded woman 



LADY LAURA. 95 

moving sanely among the positive facts 
and healthy pm'poses of life, and the 
sceptical visionary whose life-purposes 
had foundered hopelessly in the deep 
waters of impossible dreams and ideals 
too fair for a world careless on the whole 
of bettering — an alliance not without 
ludicrous aspects, but at the same time 
full of pathetic meanings for those who 
had eyes to read them. To Lady Sarah 
herself the thing was perfectly simple ; 
to Fenton it was not stranger than any 
other phenomenon of life. That doubt 
should work out the ends of faith, 
that genius should fetch and carry for 
common-sense, that gifts once grudged to 
any work short of the highest and com- 
pletest should in the end be used to 
patch and darn the common-place life of 
an obscure fishing- village, — all this was 
but in keeping with the general irony of 
things in a universe of which the story 



96 LADY LAURA. 

was an involvecl paradox and the end a 
blank negation. 

In such a large and mixed party it was 
easy for Heme to carry out his resolution 
of holding aloof from Laura and observing 
her at a distance, especially as she did 
her best to avoid him, and threw a 
marked coldness into her manner on 
the occasions on which they inevitably 
came together. They both played their 
parts so well that they had been a 
week at Llanoun, meeting continually, 
often for hours in each other's presence, 
and yet no word had passed between 
them that was not quite common-place. 
Heme was to go back to London on 
the next day, and Lam-a was once 
more looking forward to a deliverance 
that would leave her desolate ; for the 
renewed intercourse with him had dis- 
pelled the illusion with which she had 
comforted herself while he was away ; and 



LADY LAURA. 



97 



she could no longer hide from herself that 
her attachment was deepening homiy, 
even in spite of the indifference with 
which he now treated her. She had no 
right to resent this indifference, for she 
had never allowed herself to think he had 
meant more than friendship in their former 
intercourse, and it was only natural that 
the persistent coldness of her own manner 
should at length have chilled his. She 
knew, indeed, that she ought to rejoice 
in it as saving her from temptations which 
she would have been weak to fight against, 
had they arisen. But to rejoice was be- 
yond her strength, — she suffered keenly 
imder his neglect, and in spite of all her 
efforts to appear happy an indefinable 
sadness became visible in her manner. 

The difficulty of maintaining an un- 
conscious air was increased for her by 
the watchful solicitude that her failing 
spu'its awakened in her sisters. She felt 

VOL. II. 7 



98 LADY LAURA. 

that they observed her suspiciously ; and 
every moment of the day became com- 
plicated for her by some new necessity of 
dissimulation — every simplest action was 
liable to be misunderstood. If she threw 
herself in the way of meetings with 
Heme, they looked at her; if she went 
out of her way to avoid him, they looked 
at her. Only this morning she had 
refused to be one of a walking party 
because she had calculated that, in the 
inevitable pairing off on the road, it 
would fall to her lot to walk with 
Heme. The party consisted of Mr. 
Tremadoc, the Walworths, Mr. Burrell 
Jones, Egmont, and Eva Courtenay. Mr. 
Tremadoc and Lord Walworth would walk 
together and talk politics. Lady Walworth 
would take possession of Mr. Jones, and 
Egmont never lost an opportunity of 
being at Eva's side. There would be no 
alternative for her but to walk with 



LADY LAURA. 99 

Heme ; so she made lame excuses and 
stayed at home. 

But now as she sat by the fire, working 
at some embroidery for Sarah, which she 
had made her pretext for staying indoors, 
she felt that Lady Mary, sitting opposite 
to her, was neglecting the book in her 
hand to peep over its edges and discover 
the true reason of her refusal to go out. 
She worked on with increasing assiduity, 
but her fingers trembled, and the stitches 
went awry. She turned hot and cold 
alternately in expectation of the sermon 
she believed to be hatching for her ; and 
when at last her sister spoke, she had 
reached such a point of embarrassment 
that she did not know how to answer, 
though the matter was after all quite 
impersonal. 

*This is a very remarkable book,' said 
Lady Mary ; ^ you should read it, Laura. 
It contains many ideas which, I feel, 



loo LADY LAURA. 

would have been of inestimable value to 
me if I had come upon them at your 
age. It is the great misfortune of 
most women that they learn everything 
when it is too late.' 

' What is the book about ? ' asked 
Laura. 

^ It is a collection of essays on various 
problems of life, addressed chiefly to 
women. There is one on waste that is 
excellent — most excellent : I should like 
to put it into the hands of every woman 
in the country. One on marriage, which 
is good also, though I think it makes too 
much of the superiority of the married life 
to the single.' (Lady Mary regarded 
her own matrimonial venture as the 
great mistake of her life, pardonable only 
for the sake of the right it gave her 
to speak depreciatingly of matrimony in 
general.) * Then there is one on education,' 
she continued, ^ which is very able; it 



LADY LAURA. loi 

lias some points in it that I am not aware 
of having ever seen stated before, and 
which are most important. And there are 
others — on health, on dress, on beanty. 
The essay on beauty is very striking. It 
justifies the love of beauty by pointing 
out how all true beauty has some real 
utility at the bottom of it — how, for in- 
stance, a fine figure is one in which all 
the organs of digestion and respii'ation 
have abundant room to work, and a good 
complexion is the normal appearance of 
the skin when the blood is in a healthy 
condition, and so on through a great 
variety of cases. I have always felt 
that there must be some solid reason for 
the satisfaction even superior people find 
in these things, — which otherwise would 
be so very unimportant.' 

Lady Mary had looked away from 
Laura now, and was complacently con- 
templating her own person in a mirror 



I02 LADY LAURA. 

that hung conveniently on the opposite 
wall. She had the fine form and colouring 
that belonged to her family, and had 
always valued them, in spite of the early 
bent of her mind towards science ; and 
while listening to lectures at the Royal 
Institution it had never been a matter of 
indifference to her that she was the hand- 
somest woman who sat on its benches 
—nor was she unconscious of the becom- 
ing character of the plain black velvet 
gowns which she habitually wore. But 
vanity was a weakness inconsistent with 
the part in life she had chosen to play, 
and therefore she believed herself to be 
free from it. When she had satisfied her- 
self that her figure was ample enough to 
allow free play to the vital organs, and 
her complexion of the tint produced 
by duly oxygenated blood, she looked 
back at Laura and observed that she was 
rather pale. 



I 



LADY LAURA. 103 

'I think you did wrongly,' slie said, 
' in not going out this morning. You 
are looking rather white and pasty, as 
if you had not enough oxygen in your 
lungs.' 

' It is not natural to me to have much 
colour,' Laura answered. ^ I am always 
pale; but I think I am very well.' 

There was a slight melancholy in 
Laura's voice as she said that she was 
always pale. Without being exactly 
vain, she had not formerly been dis- 
contented with her looks ; but she was 
beginning to think rather poorly of herself 
now that she seemed so little attractive 
to another. Lady Mary noticed the 
melancholy note, and it confirmed her 
in her belief that Laura was out of 
health — delicate girls were always in 
danger of becoming sentimental. 

* It is true,' she said, ^ that you are 
generally pale, but I believe it is only 



104 LADY LAURA. 

because you are not strong. And I am 
convinced that there is nothing like 
morning exercise for health. That is 
one of the points this man emphasises 
most. I wish I could find the passage 
again to read to you — hut when one 
wants a thing it always seems to have 
gone out of the hook.' 

Lady Mary fluttered the pages back- 
wards and forwards, without however 
turning up the passage she wanted ; she 
gave up the quest and began reading 
another essay. Soon she spoke again. 

* Oh, here is something else that I 
wanted to show you — some remarks on 
love, that are really wonderfully sensible. 
Listen,' and she began to read : * ^' There 
are few reforms in the education of girls 
that would tend more to their happiness 
in after-life than a radical change in the 
tone of society and of books on the sub- 
ject of love. To assume a 'priori that 



LADY LAURA. 105 

every marriage is based on love, and that 
every so-called love-affair is a mysterious 
and sacred romance " ' 

' Oh, please don't read any more,' cried 
Lam-a, realising that this was the text, 
and that the sermon would follow imme- 
diately if she did not make an energetic 
protest. ' I hate people who write in 
that sort of business-like way about love. 
It always sounds to me indecent.' 

Lady Mary drew herself up a little. 
' I am sorry you think my taste in read- 
ing indecent.' 

' I beg your pardon,' said Laura ; ^ of 
course I did not mean that, and I 
daresay the man is quite right in what 
he says. Only I always do hate things 
about love — especially for reading loud. 
I will read it to myself if you think it 
would be useful.' 

Laura's penitence was genuine. She 
felt so utterly astray in her feelings just 



io6 LADY LAURA. 

now, that she was disposed to think most 
people knew better than herself. Only 
she could not undergo a discourse from 
the sister with whom she had least 
sympathy, on the subject on which she 
knew she would be most unsympathetic. 
She held out her hand for the book, 
but Lady Mary held it back. 

' I do not want you to read it if you 
are prejudiced against it. But I think it 
is a pity to refuse to hear things because 
they happen not to be on one's own 
side of the question.' And Lady Mary 
leaned back in her chair, and held the 
book up before her face as if to say that 
the question was settled. 

Laura bent over her work, but her 
eyes filled with tears and she could not 
see to set her stitches. Suddenly she 
heard voices in the hall — the walkers had 
returned, and they would come into the 
room in another minute. She started 



LADY LAURA. 107 

up, and, hastily collecting her working 
materials, made her escape through a 
side door — regardless of Lady Mary's 
observation on her eagerness to be gone 
before the others came. 

The door by which she fled led into 
a long corridor at the end of which was 
a pretty little room that seldom was used 
by any one but Laura, who had got into 
the way of considering it her special 
sanctum whenever she was staying at 
Llanoun. Thinking to take refuge there 
now, she ran along the passage and 
opened the door hurriedly. 

She had counted on finding the room 
empty, but to her surprise it was full of 
people, and she stopped confusedly on the 
threshold. Mr. Jones and Mr. Fenton 
were standing in the window discussing 
some designs that were scattered on a 
table, Mr. Jones criticizing in a loud voice 
and Mr. Fenton quietly defending — 



io8 LADY LAURA. 

while Lady Sarah was explaining to 
Heme in an under-tone that the designs 
were of Mr. Fenton's doing. Lady 
Walworth, seated a little apart, was 
watching the group with evident amuse- 
ment. She was the only one who saw 
Laura's abrupt entrance and the con- 
fused blush and start with which she 
attempted to withdraw on finding the 
room occupied. Laura, painfully alive 
to her sister's observation^ thought for 
a moment that the amused expression 
on Eachel's face had reference to herself. 
But she was quickly reassured. Eachel's 
humour was abundantly fed for the mo- 
ment by what was passing in the window, 
and she was only interested in Laura's 
entrance in so far as it promised her 
sympathy in her amusement. 

^ Don't run away,' she said ; ^ we are 
looking at the designs Mr. Fenton has 
made for the decoration of the schools. 



LADY LAURA. 109 

Tliis is the Palace of Truth, and we are 
all to speak our unvarnished opinions. 
Mr. Jones is getting up our courage by 
setting us a good example.' 

* Have you seen them, Lady Laura ? ' 
said Heme, turning towards her as soon 
as he was conscious of her presence. 
He handed her one of the sketches, and 
his voice sounded as if he wanted to 
hear her opinion. A bright flush came 
into her cheeks, and she felt suddenly 
happy. Their hands touched as she 
took the paper fi'om him, but she took 
care that their eyes should not meet. 

' I am afraid my opinion will not be 
of any use,' she said. ' You know that 
I do not understand art.' She spoke to 
Heme and remained standing by him — 
he was less terrible to her than her 
sisters. 

* I know you always say so,' he an- 
swered, '■ but none of us are to be diffident 



no LADY LAURA. 

any more, for Mr. Fenton lias told us 
that we are all to consider ourselves com- 
petent judges. He only stipulates for 
our speaking the truth. Is not that it ? ' 

^Certainly,' said Mr. Fenton; ^I have 
great confidence in the instinctive judg- 
ments of cultivated people on matters 
of taste, — especially of women.' 

Lady Walworth held up her hands. 
' This from you ! I thought you were 
the sworn enemy of women-artists.' 

' So I am. Women are aesthetic but 
they are not artistic ; they make an 
excellent audience, hut very poor actors 
as a rule. Lady Laura will not suspect 
me of flattery, I am sure, if I say that 
I would rather have her good opinion 
of a picture I had painted than that of 
a whole army of male critics. And I 
am sure Mr. Jones will agree with me, 
though of course his experience lies in 
a different department of art.' 



LADY LAURA. in 

A smile went round the room, and 
then Mr. Fenton, having revenged him- 
self on the preacher, turned quietly to 
Laura and began explaining to her the 
idea of his design. Laura had recovered 
self-possession by this time and she 
listened with interest ; she entered into 
the subject with her usual quickness of 
sympathy, and made one or two sugges- 
tions that were received with decided 
approbation by the artist. Uncon- 
sciously she was soon taking the lead in 
the conversation. 

^ Why, Laura,' said Lady Sarah, 'you 
are coming out in a new light. I thought 
3^ou rather despised art. If I had sus- 
pected you of all these ideas I should 
have made you help me long ago. Don't 
you agree with me, Mr. Heme, that it 
is very unfair to have valuable ideas 
and to keep them under lock and key?' 

' Certainly,' said Heme. ' But Lady 



112 LADY LAURA. 

Laura has solemnly assured me that she 
knows nothing about art.' 

Laura looked up at him with a per- 
plexed smile. 

* I should never have thought of calling 
this art,' she said. 

^ You are like Monsieur Jourdain,' said 
Fenton ; ^ you talk art without knowing 
it and so escape a great many blunders.' 

It was a new sensation to Laura to 
find her opinion valued by her sister's 
clever friends, and though she blushed 
and felt a little confused, it was undeni- 
ably pleasant to her. She brightened 
up under the influence of it, and looked 
more than usually pretty. Heme forgot 
prudence and allowed himself to look 
at her with manifest admiration. Now 
that his visit to Llanoun was so nearly 
at an end, the resolution with which he 
had begun it seemed likely to be set 
aside. 



LADY LAURA. 113 

As they left the room he joined Laura 
and said, — 

* I am grateM to Mr. Fenton for his 
theory about women. I see now that 
you are justified in neither painting, sing- 
ing, nor playing : your part is to under- 
stand and suggest.' 

Laura smiled and tried to answer, but 
her inspiration was at an end. She felt 
singularly incapable of either understand- 
ing or suggesting, and without going 
through the form of excusing herself, she 
hurried away from Heme in the direction 
of the drawing-room. The door was 
open, and, as she approached it, she 
caught the sound of her own name. Her 
sisters were all there, evidently discuss- 
ing her. Without thinking what she 
ought to do, she stood and listened. 

^ Laura herself assured me that there 
was nothing between them,' Lady Sarah 
was saying. 

VOL. II. 8 



114 LADY LAURA. 

* That was three months ago/ said 
Lady Walworth ; ' there has been time 
for a whole three-volume novel to spin 
itself since then. I think one of us had 
better speak to her.' 

* What good can we do ? ' said Sarah's 
voice again. ^ We shall only make her 
unhappy. In my opinion the kindest 
thing is to say nothing, but just to save 
her from the pain of meeting him any 
more. Unless, indeed, it were not better 
to let the thing take its course.' 

There was an unusual tone of doubt- 
fulness in Sarah's voice as she said this. 
Lady Mary was the next to speak. 

^ I thought you assured us just now 
that Laura was safe because Maurice 
Heme was going to marry Cassandra. 
He cannot marry them both ; and I don't 
think a course that ends in Laura's 
breaking her heart about Cassandra's 
husband will be very edifying. To my 



LADY LAURA. 115 

mind such collisions in love are in- 
decent.' 

The last word was prompted by a 
spirit of retaliation. Lady Mary was 
still smarting under Laura's application 
of it to her author's manner. 

^ But who vouches for the attachment 
to Cassandra ? ' asked Eachel ' I should 
be inclined to doubt it myself. Men 
don't, as a rule, like that sort of incal- 
culable woman — especially when she is 
nearly related to them. What have you 
got to go upon, Sarah ? ' 

Sarah did not answer at once. She 
was realising that she had in truth very 
little to go upon — nothing, in fact, but 
Laura's belief that such an attachment 
existed. After a pause she said, ' Per- 
haps it is a mistake about Cassandra. It 
certainly struck me as odd that she 
should refuse to come here now. Perhaps 
there is nothing in it.' 



ii6 LADY LAURA. 

^It strikes me,' said Lady Mary, *tliat 
it is rather derogatory to Laura's dignity 
to discuss the question entirely in relation 
to Cassandra. This fancy for Maurice 
Heme is foolish in itself and ought to be 
discouraged on that ground alone. I was 
on the point of warning her this morning, 
but she rushed out of the room with tears 
in her eyes, and I thought I had better 
wait for another opportunity.' 

*Pray don't speak in a hurry,' said 
Sarah, who knew how terrible such speak- 
ing would probably be, and felt as much 
concerned for Laura as if it had been 
proposed to set the police upon her. 

Lady Mary replied with dignity, *I 
had no intention of speaking in a hurry, 
and I am quite willing not to speak at 
all if you will undertake to stop the affair. 
But that it must be stopped somehow I 
am very certain.' 

^ Why ? ' said Sarah, with sudden bold- 



LADY LAURA. 117 

ness. ^ Why should it be stopped ? 
Maurice Heme is a good man and a 
gentleman, and we all like him, and he 
and Laura would suit one another. For- 
give me, Mary, but I think you do not 
quite understand all that that means in 
marriage.' 

Lady Sarah did not stay to see the 
effect of this speech. She was, in truth, 
a little frightened at her boldness, for 
Lady Mary held that sort of ascendency 
over her sisters that generally belongs to 
the least amiable member of a family 
whose judgments are not to be disputed 
for fear of the consequences. She could 
not, Hke Sarah, look upon other people's 
opinions as varieties resulting from differ- 
ence of character; nor, like Kachel, as 
amusing vagaries giving spuit to the 
comedy of life. She viewed all questions 
with ultra-seriousness, and all her 
opinions were rigid as moral axioms — 



Ii8 LADY LAURA. 

deflection fi'om which implied a pre- 
carious moral balance in the deflector. 
Lady Sarah had the reputation in society 
of being a singularly fearless woman; 
nevertheless this was the first time in her 
life that she had openly defied her eldest 
sister ; and having done it, her next step 
was flight. She crossed Laura in the 
doorway, and they looked guiltily at one 
another ; but neither spoke, and Laura's 
entrance checked further remark on the 
part of the other sisters. 

It had been agreed that the impromptu 
committee who had discussed the designs 
in the morning should walk down to the 
schools directly after luncheon and meet 
the local decorator who was to be en- 
trusted with the task of execution. Laura 
could not possibly escape being of the 
party ; indeed, since the conversation she 
had overheard in the morning, her one 
object was to avoid Ute-a-Utes with her 



LADY LAURA. 119 

sisters, and to go out was the surest way 
of doing this. For Lady Mary, in spite 
of her theories, was lazy about walking ; 
and Lady Walworth declared herself too 
tired with the exercise she had taken in 
the morning to go out again. She did 
not mind Lady Sarah ; and she thought 
she would manage to walk chiefly with 
Mrs. Jones, whose absent smiles were 
famous for discouraging conversational 
attack, and with whom one might con- 
sequently walk in silence without making 
oneself remarkable. 

Laura was not the only person who 
started on the walk with a private plan 
of action. Lady Sarah, since her open 
defiance of her sister's opinion, felt that 
it was incumbent upon her to take a 
decided part in Laura's love-affair, and 
that to this end she ought to arrive at 
more definite knowledge than she yet 
possessed of the feeling on both sides. 



I20 LADY LAURA. 

But she was sorely puzzled to know 
how to do this. From any direct ques- 
tioning of her sister she shrank with 
an invincible repugnance. The silent 
mystery of maidenhood in which Laura 
moved was very sacred to the older 
woman, and to break in upon it rudely 
would have seemed to her a sacrilege. 
On the whole it appeared to her that to 
sound Heme would be the easier task. 
And she promised herself that she would 
make an opportunity of doing this in the 
course of the afternoon's walk. Accord- 
ingly she made an excuse for leaving 
the school before the discussion was over, 
and asked Heme to walk with her to a 
fishing hamlet about a mile away. Her 
errand done, they would walk back to 
meet the rest of the party, and then all 
go together to see the sunset on a 
sandy reach that lay two miles on the 
other side of Llanoun, where the car- 



LADV LAURA. 121 

riage had been ordered to meet them. 
She thus made sure of at least a good 
half-hour's Ute-a-Ute with Heme, in the 
course of which she said to herself that 
she could not fail to bring him to con- 
fession. 

However, when she found herself 
alone with him, the task of inquisi- 
tion seemed less easy than she had 
judged it while she made her plans. 
She talked of Laura, and he answered 
in vague terms about women generally, 
and their work in life ; she touched on 
marriage and he was absolutely silent. 
Then she started the subject of vocations 
in life, speculating as to what on the 
whole was the worthiest aim for a man 
to set before himself in our times, mean- 
ing him to understand in her remarks 
an oblique questioning of his own drifting 
career. She alluded to Mr. Fenton's 
theory about women, and said she dis- 



122 LADY LAURA. 

sented from it. People ought to have 
creative power in proportion to their 
sensibility, and she could only value 
men and women by what they succeeded 
in being, not by what they might have 
been. 

^ In short,' said Heme, ^ you have no 
place in your philosophy for failures.' 

^ No place for them among successes, 
certainly. But then I don't think I 
recognise as many failures as you pro- 
bably do. I don't call people failures 
merely because their particular hobbies 
go shipwreck. On the whole I think 
a man's hobby is generally his mad point, 
which it is his business in life to get 
ground down.' 

Lady Sarah meant this as a challenge, 
and she looked up at Heme in expec- 
tation of denial. But Heme made no 
answer. 

^ Why don't you contradict me ? ' she 



LADY LAURA. 123 

said. * You know you are full of hobbies 
and are waiting to begin your life till 
you find a clear field for them, and 
that you have a great contempt for 
people like me who grope along with- 
out exactly knowing where they are 
going to. Why don't you defend the 
hobby-riders ? ' 

' Because I am often tempted to feel 
with you that hobby-riding is a mistake, 
and to think that the sanest life is 
the one that is least hampered by ab- 
stract principles. Only unfortunately I 
cannot succeed in getting my mad point 
ground down. I cannot rest in the con- 
clusion that henceforth man is to be 
redeemed only piecemeal and by in- 
dividual efforts, and that the world is 
never again to experience one of the 
vivifying movements that make the land- 
marks of history. To talk in these days 
of a new gospel is the surest way of 



124 LADY LAURA. 

raising a laugh, but yet I can see no 
inherent absurdity in the idea, unless all 
past religions have been absurd also.' 

' Have you ever stated clearly to your- 
self what the new gospel should be ? ' 
asked Lady Sarah. 

* Very clearly once.' 

* And now the vision has grown dim ? ' 
' It has.' 

* Visions should grow clearer as we 
advance in life. If they do not, we are 
justified in counting them among the 
phantoms that mislead us, not the 
revelations that guide. WiU you tell 
me what form your vision took ? ' 

^ That,' said Heme, * would be to 
write its epitaph ; and my vision is not 
quite dead. Within the last few months 
it has come to me again in almost as 
vivid form as it had in the beginning. 
I will stiU hope to show it to you 
practically.' 



LADY LAURA. 125 

Lady Sarah had for a moment for- 
gotten her part of inquisitor, and in 
asking Heme for a confession of faith, 
she had no thought of Laura in her 
mind. But his answer told her all that 
she wanted to know : ^ the last few 
months ' could only mean ' since I have 
known Laiu'a,' — the practical demon- 
stration would come after they were 
married. She said a mental Amen, and 
then wondered to herself whether she 
was justified in giving her sympathy to 
a union of which the happiness must 
depend on her sister's renunciation of 
all her past hehefs. 

The others came in sight. Laura was 
walking in front with Mr. Fenton, who 
was talking continuously as if he were 
relating a story ; and she was listening 
with the hright sympathy that makes 
speech so easy. As they met, she said, — 

' Mr. Fenton has heen telling me such 



126 LADY LAURA. 

beautiful stories of the old world, and 
the last was the most beautiful of all. 
Do you know the story of the Maid of 
Craig-y-don, Mr. Heme ? ' 

To take the first opportunity of ad- 
dressing Heme was a course hardly 
consistent with the plans with which 
Laura had come out. But how shall 
one hinder iron from turning towards the 
magnet, or look and speech from going 
where sympathy attracts ? 

Heme answered that he did not know 
the story. Would Laura tell it him ? 
And he reminded her that she had once 
promised to tell him a story and never 
done it. Laura remembered, and said 
she would pay the debt. 

Mr. Fenton's story was one of those 
primitive allegories in which the human 
conscience everywhere has expressed its 
sense of the universal strife between good 
and evil, by investing surrounding scenery 



LADY LAURA, 127 

with moral meanings and transforming 
the working forces of natiu'e into demons 
and fairies of the hearth. The fancy 
of a Gaehc bard had found an image of 
virgin innocence in a white rock that 
stood out lonely among the breakers ; 
and, in the sea that tossed and moaned 
around it, the likeness of a demon lover 
wooing the white-robed maiden — now 
with strong embrace of circling waves, 
now with gentle murmur of caressing 
ripple — wooing with irresistible per- 
suasion through the long centmies of 
change that had elapsed since the old 
dim time when tradition said that the 
white rock had stood inland a quarter of 
a lime. 

The story in simple outline was 
familiar to all the fishing population 
of the neighbourhood, and mothers 
made a convenient proverb of the bold 
lass who had left her father's roof to 



128 LADY LAURA. 

tempt the waves in company with a 
strange lover and been requited for her 
forwardness by abandonment in deep 
water. In telUng the story to Laura, 
Mr. Fenton had added much to the 
original legend, developing many latent 
meanings and analogies, and clothing 
the whole with quaint imagery and 
fantastic detail of his own conceiving, 
so that the allegory was lost sight of; 
and she had listened with delight as to a 
true-life story of a world gone by. But 
when she began to tell it herself to 
Heme, it struck her with new and em- 
barrassing significance. She hurried to 
the end, saying as she finished, — 

' After all the beauty must have been 
in the telling. I do not care for it 
now. It is too tragic' 

' Not more tragic than life,' said 
Fenton. 

^ But it is grim.' 



LADY LAURA. 129 

* So is life, — gi'im, sad, tragic. The 
blighted life lays hold on the life that is 
just budding, and di'ags it down to perdi- 
tion. The depths of misery call to the 
depths of joy, and joy answers the call 
and is swallowed up by miseiy. Light 
goes out in darkness, sweetness of inno- 
cence in bitterest remorse. It is the old 
story of the two powers of Evil and Good 
contending through the ages, and Evil 
always victorious.' 

^ Oh don't ! ' interrupted Laura ; ' you 
fiighten mei; 

^Forgive «ie,' said Fenton ; ^ I am a 
brute. But you see this is an illustration 
of what I was saying, — any dismal raven 
that has the fancy to croak can njake the 
angels weep. We must get Mr. Jones to 
preach us a sermon on the beautiful 
harmonies of nature in which evil plays 
the part of an agreeable discord, or disso- 
nance, or diminished something — what is 

VOL. II. 9 



I30 LADY LAURA, 

the right phrase, Lady Sarah ? I heard 
Fraulein Stahl explaining it to you yes- 
terday.' 

Lady Sarah had been talking apart to 
Mr. Burrell Jones. They now joined the 
other group ; and conversation became 
general. Mr. Jones was eloquent about 
beauty and art, and said that for his part 
he did not exactly believe in evil. Lady 
Sarah said she thought there was a great 
deal of evil in the world, but that on the 
whole good was the stronger power. 
Mrs. Jones agreed with hei^usband and 
smiled vaguely at Mr. Fen^n's thrusts. 
Only Heme and Laura were silent ; and 
by-and-by they found themselves walking 
together a little behind the others. 

Laura was absorbed in the thoughts 
that Fenton's cynical outburst had 
awakened. This mystery of Good and 
Evil had been exercising her mind con- 
tinually of late — seeming as the statement 



L5& 



J 



LADY LAURA. 131 

in large of the personal problem that 
tormented her ; and her mind continually 
lost itself in contradictions, while her 
Jieart shrank in terror fi'om a chaotic 
world in which right and wrong were 
so inseparably mixed that the wisest 
and strongest disagreed among them- 
selves, and the ignorant knew not 
to whom to look for guidance. Till 
lately all her philosophy had been to 
trust and to believe ; but now she found 
the instinct of trust and the habit of 
beHef ranged upon opposite sides. The 
voice that commanded her sympathies 
spoke words that outraged the traditions 
in which she had been reared : the 
suggestions against which it seemed a 
duty to do unrelenting battfe came in 
tones that were as the echo of a sweet 
mi^sic in herself. And when her per- 
plexity was greatest, the strongest 
impulse of her being was to tiurn 



132 LADY LAURA. 

for help to tlie quarter in which her 
danger lay. Against this impulse she 
was battling with ebbing force as she 
walked in silence by Heme's side. Sud- 
denly it mastered her and she said — , 

' Do you think it is true what Mr. 
Fenton said just now ? Surely it cannot 
be that good is so weak, and evil so 
strong, and that the battle between the 
two always ends in the triumph of evil. 
It is too terrible to be true.' 

^ I think it is so far true that, in the 
struggle with wrong, right always loses 
something.' 

* Then,' said Laura, ' you agree with 
Mr. Fenton that wrong is always vic- 
torious ? ' 

There was a great sadness in her voice. 
She hadhoped, nay, she hadbeen sure, that 
Heme would not agree with Fenton ; 
and now she felt that he was passing 
sentence of despair upon the world. 



LADY LAURA. 133 

But Heme had not meant liis words to 
be so taken, and he hastened to explain. 

^ No, I do not agree to that. "Wliat I 
mean is that wrong can only be cured 
by much sacrifice of things ideally good. 
But such sacrifice is not a sacrifice to 
e^dl — it is a sacrifice of lesser good now 
to greater good hereafter. Mr. Fenton 
thinks it terrible that misery should call 
to joy, and joy answer to the call. But 
I cannot sympathise with him. That it 
should be so, seems to me the only hope 
for the future. And I daresay Mr. Fenton 
himself would say so at another time.' 

* I am sure you are right,' said Laura, 
speaking with slow gravity — ^that is, if 
you really mean what I think you do. 
But then it is not at all what one is 
generally told is right. It seems to me 
that all the good that one has, all that 
makes it possible for one to be better 
than others, only fills one with remorse 



134 LADY LAURA. 

until one has found a way of sharing it 
with those who have it not. I think, if 
I had been Lazarus, I would not have 
rested in Abraham's bosom while Dives 
was crying to me out of his torment.' 

^ I am sure you would not — you would 
have come down from heaven when a 
voice cried from hell.' And then, for he 
did not wish to spoil the simplicity of 
the scene by obtruding suggestions of a 
personal nature, he added, * I believe all 
good women feel as you do — your sister, 
for instance, who spends all her thought 
in devising good for the people about her.' 

'Yes,' said Laura; * but then Sarah is 
clever — all women cannot work as she 
does.' 

* There are other ways than work by 
which women help the world to grow 
better. They do it best by being simply 
good themselves and giving their sym- 
pathy to all right effort. Only unfortu- 



LADY LAURA. 135 

nately in these days the hest men are 
going one way and the best women are 
looking another.' 

Laura looked up, asking him to speak 
more plainly. It seemed to her that at 
last the answer was coming for which she 
liad been so long groping. 

*Tell me what you mean,' she said. 
' I have thought so often lately how sad 
it is that people who are earnest-minded 
and who might work together should have 
so little sympathy. I cannot call people 
bad when T know that they are seeking 
good, and seeking it more earnestly than 
I am myself. And yet ' 

' But yet it seems to you that some 
people seek good by means that you have 
been taught to believe lead only to evil.' 

* Yes,' she said; *till sometimes I can 
see no difference between good and evil, 
and life seems a mad stru2foie, with no 
rest anywhere.' 



136 LADY LAURA. 

* There is no rest in the present,' said 
Heme, ^ except for cowards who shirk the 
struggle.' 

He spoke bitterly, and Laura felt re- 
buked — it did not occur to her that the 
bitterness was against himself. 

* Oh, it makes me tired to think of it,' 
she said, * tired to think of this continual 
battling. Do ijou never feel this ? But 
I know you do not. Cassandra has told 
me that you have gone bravely forward, 
facing all the puzzling questions and 
standing by your convictions whatever 
they might cost you. And Egmont says 
the same.' 

* Lady Laura,' said Heme, ^ you would 
not say this if you knew me better. I 
am one of the cowards who have shirked 
the battle.' 

He spoke in a hard, low voice that 
gave distinctness and significance to 
every word and made it impossible to 



LADY LAURA. 137 

put aside his self-condemnation as a 
mere convention of speech. He meant 
what he said, and Laura knew it. He 
was expressing truly the bitter sense of 
his failure and unworthiness. He was 
telling her that the staff on which she 
had thought to lean was but a reed 
shaken by the wind. And she had no 
choice but to believe him. He was weak 
and astray like herself; there was no 
help for her in the man for whose sake 
she had unlearned her trust in God. She 
could not answer — her disappointment 
was too deep and terrible to be spoken, 
and her lips would not shape themselves 
to words of insincere consolation. For a 
moment she looked at him with wonder- 
ing compassion. Then her eyes filled 
with tears, and she turned them away 
towards the horizon. 

The sun was sinking into the sea and 
flooding all the scene with a crimson 



138 LADY LAURA. 

liaze in which objects lost distinctness 
as though they were dissolving in the 
glow of deepening colour. The sky 
seemed close above their heads, — one 
almost with the sea in which its glory 
was reflected. 

They had walked far out upon the 
sands and were within a stone's throw 
of the white rock that rose like a column 
of opal-tinted mist above the tranquilly- 
receding tide. The legend came back 
to Laura's mind, and, with shuddering 
horror, she felt that the fate of the Maid 
of Craig-y-don was coming upon her. 
She cast a frightened look backward 
towards the beach where the rest of the 
party were lingering ; but their figures 
looked far-off and unreal, she could dis- 
tinguish no one. She and Heme were 
alone in the universe — alone and without 
help. 

A great terror filled her mind, prompt- 



LADY LAURA. 139 

ing her one moment to fly and the next 
to tiiiTL to Heme for the help he could 
not give. Suddenly he spoke. 

' I think I see them signing to us from 
the beach/ he said. ' Had we not better 
go back ? ' 

He spoke in his ordinary voice and 
seemed quite unconscious of her distress. 
She tried to turn tov^ards him and answer 
in a matter-of-course way, but she could 
not command herself. She was at the 
extreme point of nervous tension that 
may break at the most trivial incident 
or indifferent word, and the sound of 
his voice was more than she could 
bear. Her tears could no longer be re- 
strained — she strove to speak, but the 
effort ended in a sob ; and she turned 
away in helpless confusion. Heme could 
not pretend unconsciousness any longer. 
She was crying like a child before him, 
and he knew why. What could he do 



140 LADY LAURA. 

but comfort her? He turned abruptly 
to her and took her hand ; she let him 
hold it. 

^You are unhappy,' he said. 'What 
is it ? ' 

She did not withdraw her hand, but 
neither did she answer. 

* Will you not tell me what distresses 
you ? ' he went on. * I might be able to 
help you, and it would be a great happi- 
ness to me to do so.' 

' No, no,' she said, snatching her hand 
away and speaking almost petulantly. 
' You cannot help me. No one can help 
me. I am foolish and weak and miser- 
able. And there is no help anywhere. 
You said so yourself, and I feel that it 
is true.' 

'1 said it? When did I say it? 
You have misunderstood me. I do not 
remember saying anything of the kind. 
When did I say there was no help ? ' 



LADY LAURA. 141 

* Just now/ she answered. * When I 
said that you were brave and strong, you 
answered that you were not, and I felt 

that you meant it — and — and ' She 

broke off and looked imploringly towards 
him. 

^ And was that what distressed you ? ' 
asked Heme, drawing nearer and taking 
both her hands this time. ^ Is it on my 
account that you are unhappy ? ' 

^ Oh, I do not know! Only it all seems 
sad and hopeless to me. And I thought 
you were strong, and you say you are 
not. And I do not know what is right. 
.... How can I sympathise with right 
effort, if I clo not know what is right ? ' 

She made a feeble effort to withdraw 
her hands ; but as he held them fast, she 
desisted and looked up at him mth an 
expression in which despair and trust 
were strangely mingled. It was in vain 
she repeated that he could not help her 



142 LADY LAURA. 

— she felt safe while he held her Lands in 
his, she was almost comforted now that 
he looked gently on her sorrow. 

And he ? 

He felt that he had refrained long 
enough. Cassandra's warning and the 
sad words in which she had betrayed 
the long hunger of her life had haunted 
him hitherto with forbidding power. But 
the revelation of Laura's dependence on 
his love had brought a rush of joy that 
bore down all considerations of prudence 
or of other claims. If Cassandra loved 
him, Laura loved him also. If Cassandra 
needed him, Laura needed him far more. 
And he needed her. In the knowledge 
that she loved him he felt a strength 
that made all things seem possible ; and 
it was not compassion only for her sad- 
ness, or remorse for having caused it, 
that made him hold her hands more 
firmly the more elie struggled to get 



LADY LAURA. 143 

them free. It was a stronger feeling 
than sympathy that prompted him to 
say commandingly, ' Listen to me one 
moment, and then I will let you go.' 

She resigned her hands passively to 
his grasp and looked down in silent 
expectation of she knew not what. She 
was so conscious of having hehaved 
foolishly that she would not have been 
surprised if he had scolded her like a 
child — she was so willing to be ruled 
by him that she would not have resented 
his rebuke. She stood quite still and 
waited for him to speak. 

'Lady Laura,' he said, 'you tell me 
I cannot help you because I am helpless 
myself and unworthy and cowardly. Ifc 
is true that I am all this — at least that 
I was a moment ago, and should be still 
if you had not given me back faith in 
purity and goodness : you said that if 
you had been Lazarus in heaven you 



144 LADY LAURA. 

would not have been happy while Dives 
cried to you from his torments. You 
said you would come down to hell if 
you could make hell better by your 
presence. Did you mean it ? — I want 
you, Laura. I am asking you to help 
me to be strong and to do and be all 
that I once dreamed. Laura, I love 

you, and I think ' 

But at the words ^ I love you,' she 
started away from him and stopped 
him with a look that he interpreted as 
anger. Till then she had hardly under- 
stood what he was saying. His voice 
was full of passion, and the voice of 
passion was new to her; it bewildered 
her like a strange language of which 
the rhythm stirs without conveying de- 
finite ideas. All she had been sm-e of 
was that he was not angry with her, 
and that somehow he was exalting her 
in the moment of her humiliation. And 



LADY LAURA. 145 

slie had listened as to a strain of sooth- 
ing music — not caring to analyse the in- 
fluence that comforted her. But when 
he said he loved her, she could not 
misunderstand any longer. She started 
back and involuntarily looked up and 
met his eyes. There was a look of 
triumph in them from which she recoiled 
in uncontrollable terror. What was he 
going to do next? what had she done 
that he should look at her like that? 
She had wanted him to love her; but 
she had not thought that love vv^ould 
look like this. 

She turned away and said in a voice 
that had grown suddenly hoarse, ' Why 
do we stay here ? It is late and chilly. 
Let us go back to the others ; they 
must be wondering what has become 
of us.' 

Heme did not end his sentence. 
Laura was already hurrying back across 

VOL. n. 10 



146 LADY LAURA. 

the sands ; and he followed her mechani- 
cally. As they walked along without 
speaking, each felt the silence jarringly, 
though neither could unravel the other's 
mood. Heme feared that he had offended 
Laura, and Laura felt herself the prey 
to a vague dread like that which pos- 
sesses the mind on awakening from 
troubled sleep among unfamiliar sur- 
roundings. 

The group on the beach, who had 
disappeared for a httle while, now came 
in sight again and made signs to them 
to hasten. Lady Sarah was looking 
anxiously at her watch. She had re- 
membered an appointment at home and 
was afraid she should be too late to 
keep it. As they walked round to the 
boat-house where the carriage was to 
wait they were joined by an old sailor, 
Owen Williams by name, who as coast- 
guards-man and captain of the Llanoun 



LADY LAURA. 147 

lifeboat was rather an important person 
in the neighbourhood. He knew all the 
party except Heme, to whom Lady Sarah 
introduced him as an old friend of hers. 
They talked of the weather and Williams 
prophesied storms. Then he asked Lady 
Sarah to go in and see his wife, who was 
in bed, a baby having lately been added 
to an already numerous family. The 
caniage not having yet arrived she went 
in. The gentlemen went round to look 
at the lifeboat, and they wanted Laura 
to go too. But she refused — saying she 
was tired — and sat down on a bench 
outside the cottage and tried to talk to 
Mrs. Jones. But she could not attend 
to her answers ; they seemed irrelevant 
and trivial, as did everything except the 
words and looks that had just passed 
between her and Heme. She could take 
no interest in Lady Sarah's report when 
she came out of the cottage ; and when 



148 LADY LAURA. 

Williams came back and tried a second 
time to persuade her to go round and 
look at the boat, she stared blankly and 
seemed to have forgotten that she had 
ever taken an interest in it. 

It was an unspeakable relief when at 
last the carriage came and she found 
herself driving home in the twilight. 





CHAPTEE VI. 

' Wearing an Eden crown.' 

ADY MAKY reflected a good 
deal in the course of the after- 
noon on Laura's love-affair 
and Sarah's very incorrect view of it, 
with the result that when Laura came 
in she was lying in wait for her at her 
bedroom door, meaning to read her a 
carefully prepared lecture on the subject. 
That Laura would refuse to listen never 
entered her head. Nevertheless when 
she intercepted her in the passage and 
said, ^ Can you come in here for a few 
minutes ? I particularly want to speak 
to you before dinner,' — Laura answered 



ISO LADY LAURA. 

without hesitation that it was impossible, 
as there was hardly an hour before dinner 
and she must be quiet for a little while 
before dressing. 

'I am tired, I want to be alone/ she 
said ; and she hurried on to her room, 
leaving her sister in helpless consternation. 

Once safe in her own room, she 
locked the door and threw herself on 
her knees beside her bed. She was alone 
at last and might give way to the tempest 
of emotions with which she had been 
battling. She bowed her head upon 
the bed and clasped her hands — falling 
instinctively into the attitude of prayer, 
though prayer in any form of articulate 
words or definite petition was impossible to 
her. She could only wait passively while 
wave after wave of emotion went over her; 
and when at last the tumult subsided acd 
left her calm, she could give no account 
to herself of the feelings she had had. 



LADY LAURA. 151 

They had passed quite away and 
taken with them all the old self with 
which she was familiar. The difficulties 
which had importuned her during the 
last few months seemed now remote and 
unimportant. Gone, too, was the wild 
and sudden terror with which she had 
started from Heme when he would have 
spoken on the sands. In its place had 
come a hoher, deeper dread. Her ques- 
tionings were answered. She knew past 
doubting that he loved her, and she 
might frankly face her love for him. The 
prize after which she had yearned so 
painfully was hers — but was it in truth 
the prize she had desired ? 

He loved her. Yes, but she had 
thought that would mean that his strong 
life would take up her weak one and bear 
it safely above doubt and danger and diffi- 
culty — she had thought that, if he loved 
her, she migbt become a child again and 



152 LADY LAURA. 

come and go at his bidding, heedless of 
problems because he knew their answer, 
untroubled by the sin and misery of the 
world because his life was spent in 
battling victoriously against them. Oh ! 
she had thought life would be easy if 
he loved her, and now her spirit fainted 
under the burden of the dignity with 
which his love invested her ! He loved 
her : that sounded hke rest. But then 
he worshipped her : that meant that she 
must labour to be worthy of his worship. 
There are humiliations that exalt, and 
there are honours that humble to the 
dust. Laura, kneeling at her bedside 
with her head bowed down upon her 
hands, felt that a crown had been 
tendered her which she dare. not put 
aside with any protest of false humility, 
but which to accept would bring a 
terrible compulsion to be without fault 
in all her life. She had heard of girls to 



LADY LAURA. 153 

whom their first love came as a bright 
intoxication, flattering their vanity and 
making them giddy and self-confident. 
She thought of them with wonder. For 
her, it seemed that vanity was dead for 
ever as she stood upon the threshold of the 
unknowTL life and waited with lowly heart 
for the teaching of revelations yet to 
come. Life henceforth would be a solemn 
service ; and this, her hour of vocation, 
she counted high and holy as that in which 
the virgin of the Christian story was 
called to glorious destiny. To her, who 
was but yesterday an iiTCsponsible child, 
whose safety lay in doubt of self and 
humble reliance upon the judgment of 
others, had been given the woman's 
crown and sceptre- — to her who, stum- 
bling in the dark, had stretched her 
hand to grasp that of another whom 
she believed able for guidance, had come 
a confession of that other's weakness — 



154 LADY LAURA. 

to her who deemed herself helpless had 
gone forth an appeal for help. She was 
bidden to the place of royalty, but she 
could take her queendom only on her 
knees — yielding herself as to a holy fate 
to which she had been born and which 
therefore she had no option to refuse. 

She was roused from her kneeling 
posture by her maid knocking at the 
door. She was tempted to send her 
away and say she could do without 
help this evening ; but, reflecting that 
this course would certainly provoke 
comment in the household, she let her 
in and resigned herself to be dressed 
as usual. Only when it was suggested 
to her to put on a rather grand 
new gown, she declined it, and asked 
for a plain white one that she had had 
a long time. In the change of all 
within her, she felt that the familiar 
garment would be a helpful link of con- 



LADY LAURA. 155 

tinuity between the old Laura and the 
new. 

She delayed going down to the drawing- 
room till she could count on all the party 
being assembled. Otherwise she might 
have encountered Lady Mary and been 
forced to hear things that would have 
jarred upon her mood. To-morrow, she 
thought, she would confide in Sarah, but 
for the present she chose to be silent : 
it would be time for speech when she 
had sounded all the depths of her new 
experience. Besides it would be neces- 
sary to sit through dinner; and how 
could she do this if her secret were 
known to others at the table ? Her 
heart beat fast as she entered the 
drawing-room, and things swam dizzily 
before her eyes. Among all the figures 
scattered about the room only one was 
clear to her, and from that one she 
turned her eyes away. 



156 LADY LAURA. 

* You are late, Laura/ said Lady Sarah ; 
* we are all waiting for you.' 

* I hope you are rested,' said Lady 
Mary with significant emphasis on the 
words, wliich however was wasted 
upon Laura. She neither spoke nor 
smiled, but stood still in her white 
gown — looking serene and radiant — till 
Mr. Fenton came up to her and said, — 

^ I believe I am to have the pleasure 
of taking you in to dinner to-night.' 

Dinner proved a less terrible ordeal 
than she had expected. Heme was at 
the other end of the table, on the same 
side of the room as herself, so that there 
was no danger of their eyes meeting or 
of her being led into conversation with 
him ; and Mr. Fenton talked kindly to 
her and was patient when she answered 
absently. After dinner she took refuge 
in a corner with the children, and when 
the gentlemen came in, Fenton joined 



LADY LAURA. 157 

lier again. She was playing with a string 
of opals that she had unfastened from her 
neck to show to the children. 

^ They are like the colours of the rain- 
bow,' said little Eachel. 

* And like my prism,' put in Eustace. 

* But you should not wear opals, Lady 
Laura,' remonstrated Mr. Fenton ; ' they 
are unlucky. Will you let me look at 
them nearer ? ' 

Laura handed them to him. ^ They 
are very beautiful stones,' he said; ^but 
you ought not to wear them. They are 
treacherous and inconstant, and your 
part is constancy.' 

^ Are you superstitious ? ' 

' Not more than most people. We are 
all like the children and animals, more 
impressed by the appearance of things 
than by their reality. Practically, I 
suppose no man can have a more 
thorough distrust of appearances than I 



158 LADY LAURA. 

have ; but that does not hinder my moods 
from being influenced by them. I have 
been distressed all dinner-time by seeing 
you dressed in opals.' 

* I am not afraid of them,' said Laura, 
taking back her necklace and fastening 
it round her throat again. 

Lucky or unlucky, it was a most be- 
coming ornament to her. The simple 
circle of beads lightly clasped her throat 
and set off its round fulness very beau- 
tifully; while the changing colours of 
the stones seemed to be reflected in the 
fitful bloom of her complexion and the 
clear blue veining of her forehead. The 
great transparency of her skin gave at 
all times an ethereal character to her 
beauty, and to-night this effect was 
much heightened by the strain of in- 
ward emotion that swayed her like an 
exquisite music. She spoke, smiled, 
listened, moved, with the air of one who 



LADY LAURA, 159 

is far-off in mind ; and yet she could not 
be called absent, for she missed nothing 
that was said to her, and her answers 
were prompt and to the point. It 
seemed rather that all her senses were 
quickened and their powers multiplied 
so that she could move sanely in two 
worlds at once — her feet on earth, her 
crown in heaven. Mr. Fenton had 
known her ever since she was a child, 
but he thought he had never seen her 
look so beautiful before. 

^ I think if you had not said they were 
so imlucky I should have had to give you 
my opals, Mr. Fenton — you cannot take 
your eyes off them.' 

* They are worshipping eyes, not cove- 
tous ones, I assure you,' answered 
Fenton, taking the hint and withdrawing 
the admiring look that was embarrassing 
her. And then, sitting down beside her, 
he said, — 



i6o LADY LAURA. 

' Opals have always had a fascination 
for me. They seem to me the type of a 
sensitive nature, and it is in this sense, 
I suppose, that we feel them to be of evil 
omen. I once made them the motive 
of a picture, which, however, came to 
nothing. It was intended to be one of 
a series, but the idea broke down.' 

^ Why did it break down ? ' 

Tor the usual reason, — it grew too 
tragic in its development.' 

' Will you tell me about it ? ' said Laura. 

* If you like. But you wiU soon tell 
me to stop, as you did this afternoon. I 
had a fancy that the gems we most 
admire are all typical of different phases 
of human passion, and I thought I would 
paint the story of a woman's life in a 
series of pictures, each of which should 
represent a different stag^ in the develop- 
ment or dechne of her affections. In 
the first I painted a very young girl 



LADY LAURA. i6i 

ornamented with pure, colourless crystals ; 
in the second I di'essed her in opals ; in 
the third I gave her pearls for young 
matronhood ; in the fourth, rubies for the 
pain of ripe life when passion is strong 
and fierce ; and in the fifth and last 
I decked her with diamonds, because 
when innocence and repose and passion 
are ahke past, a woman depends on the 
splendour of her intellect and the bril- 
liancy of her wit. Now you will give me 
a lecture, for I know 3^ou agree with me 
that wit is a poor thing to end with.' 

' Yes ; but I can see the truth of your 
idea, only ' 

' What were you going to say ? ' 

* That I think there are different kinds 
of love, and that it is not the best kind 
of love that you were painting.' 

Fenton said abruptly, ' You are very 
happy to-night.' 

* Very,' said Laura simply. 

VOL. II. 11 



i62 LADY LAURA. 

^ And you thought me a brute this 
afternoon ? ' 

* You made me unhappy for a little 

while. But it is past — only I wish ' 

She stopped, and her eyes filled with tears. 

'Why should you stop ? People should 
speak when they are happy — it is the mo- 
ment of inspiration ? What do you wish ? ' 

' That everybody was happy,' said 
Laura with a sigh. 

Fenton smiled and walked away to 
fetch some engravings he had promised 
to show her, and when he came back they 
talked of great masters and their works. 
Later in the evening Fraulein Stahl 
played on the piano ; and then bedtime 
came, and Laura saw Heme coming 
towards her to say good-night. 

She looked up as he approached her, 
and met his look with grave, unsmiling 
simplicity. It was the same look from 
which she had fled in panic a few hours 



LADY LAURA. 163 

ago — the look that seemed to take pos- 
session of her life and bind it with sweet 
and terrible conditions. But it did not 
startle her this time ; rather, the mys- 
terious tension of her mood seemed to 
gather strength from it. She held out 
her hand and said good-night. 

^ Good-night, Lady Laura,' answered 
Heme. And the words rang full and 
solemn on her ear like the opening pas- 
sage of a great poem of human thought 
and passion and prayer. 

As the ladies went together through 
the long passages that led to the bed- 
rooms, they paused several times to 
remark on the violence of the wind that 
rushed down the chimneys and shook 
the hangings of the old house, and on 
the storm-clouds drifting wildly across 
the sky. Lady Sarah reminded Laura of 
Williams' predictions, and Laura answered 
mechanically. She hardly knew that the 



i64 LADY LAURA. 

wind was raging, and she had not noticed 
the clond-confusion of the heavens. And 
when her sister wished her good-night at 
her bedroom door and stood a moment 
divided between a loving soHcitude that 
prompted her to ask for confidence and a 
not less loving reverence that restrained 
her from intruding into the closed sanc- 
tuary, she looked in her dreamy joy so 
sweet and saintlike that Lady Sarah in- 
wardly vowed that this marriage should 
not fail if effort of hers could bring it 
to an issue. So true is it that the best 
instrument of conversion is the beatitude 
of the apostles. 

^ Good-night, dear,' she said tenderly ; 
*if the storm comes on and you are 
frightened, you must call me.' 

Laura promised, and thanked her sister 
for the kind thought ; but she felt the 
while that no storm of the elements could 
upset her peace. 




CHAPTEE YII. 

* Life treads on life, and heart on heart ; 
We press too close in ch^orch and mart 
To keep a dream or grave apart. ' 

'x\UEx\ lay down to rest with a 
deeper sense of peace than 
she had yet known in the 
course of her short, bright hfe ; and if 
any one had asked her whether there was 
in her heart any unsatisfied desire, any 
craving for fruition or sense of greater 
joy before her to which her present con- 
tent was but the prelude, she would 
have answered truly, No. She wanted 
no change in her outward hfe ; she did 
not trouble herself to wonder whether 



i66 LADY LAURA. 

Heme would speak again before he went 
back to London, or whether her family 
would allow her to become his wife. 
She was happy, too happy to think or 
wish — or if she had any wish at all it 
was that every hour of her life might 
overflow as this one did with the bliss 
of knowing that she might love. And 
so she fell asleep, resting on the bosom 
of her great content with as little con- 
sciousness of what lay below it as the 
sea-bird alighting on the crest of a wave 
has of the terrors of the deep. 

And while she slept the wind moaned 
outside, and shook the house to its foun- 
dations, and wrestled with the great trees 
in the park and tore off their branches 
and flung them in confusion on the 
ground, and scared the hearts of sailors' 
wives in the village, and drove many a 
ship upon a fatal rock. The wind raged, 
and the clouds drifted in black masses 



LADY LAURA. 167 

through the starless sky to meet in vivid 
lightnings and awful crashing thunder. 

One does not look for thunder-storms 
in winter ; and Laura, starting from her 
sleep to feel the house trembling and see 
lightning flashing from the mhrors, was 
seized with a great terror in which all 
the emotions of the preceding day min- 
gled in wild confusion like fragments of 
a noble edifice that a sudden shock has 
tumbled into ruins. It was the culmi- 
nating moment of the storm, and when 
the last reverberation of the peal that 
had awakened her had died away, a long 
pause followed in which no flash relieved 
the darkness, and the only sound to be 
heard was the moaning of the wind. 
She sat up in bed with clasped hands 
and tried to be brave ; but in vain. 
All the stories she had ever heard of the 
havoc wrought by wind and sea came 
rushing through her mind as in a cataract 



i68 LADY LAURA. 

of horror, and, mirigled with them, came 
floating before her vision scenes of the 
past months. 

Suddenly with an unutterable sense of 
relief she heard Sarah's voice outside 
her door : she was giving orders to a 
servant to have things in readiness as if 
for travellers expected in the night. 
Laura glided out of bed and joined her 
in the passage. 

* Is anything the matter ? ' she asked 
with chattering teeth. 

* There is a ship in distress,' answered 
Lady Sarah, ' and they have all gone out 
to help. It is an awful storm ! ' 

' They— who ? ' 

* Edward and all the men in the house. 
I think Egmont and Maurice Heme 
meant to volunteer for the life-boat. I 
was giving orders to have hot things 
ready for them when they come in.' 

Lady Sarah spoke composedly as if 



LADY LAURA. 169 

she were not anxious about them beyond 
fearing colds and rheumatism from ex- 
posure to the storm. Laura tried to feel 
equally calm, but she could not. She 
had turned deadly white on hearing that 
Heme was probably out in the lifeboat : 
she leaned against the doorpost and 
clasped her hands tightly together. 
Lady Sarah noticed her whiteness. 

' Poor child,' she said, ' how cold you 
are ! I thought you were sleeping 
soundly. Indeed you were an hour 
ago, for I looked in and saw you.' And 
she led her back into her room and 
covered her up with blankets. 

^ What will they do ? ' asked Laura. 
She wanted to know particulars of what 
they might be doing on the waves. But 
she had no experience of nautical mat- 
ters and did not know exactly how to 
shape her questions. Lady Sarah was 
standing by the window absorbed in her 



I70 LADY LAURA. 

own thoughts and did not hear the 
question. 

Laura watched her with wonder. 
There was something very impressive to 
her in the calm manner in which she 
spoke and moved — something almost as 
awful in a different way as the raging of 
the storm outside : — more awful, perhaps, 
from the contrast it offered to the terror 
of her own heart. That seemed at least 
in sympathy with her mood ; hut this 
stoicism which a stranger might almost 
have mistaken for hardness seemed to 
stand apart from the storm and to tower 
ahove its terrors. She felt rebuked and 
oppressed by it. 

*Are you not terribly anxious about 
them ? ' she asked. ^ It is awful to think 
of people one cares for being in such 
danger.' 

* It is very awful/ replied Lady Sarah. 
^ One can only feel that all is in God's 



LADY LAURA. i-ji 

hands. At times like this it always seems 
to me that there comes a pause in life 
when the ordinary com-se of thought and 
feeling is broken across, and the only 
wisdom is to follow the old word that 
tells us to '' stand still and wait upon 
the Lord." ' 

Laura could not answer. She felt that 
there was a gulf between her and her 
sister. Sarah could be calm because she 
trusted in a Power above the storm, 
while her own courage was dead and her 
peace shattered because she had unlearned 
the trust of her childhood, and the new 
light had as yet been too faintly revealed 
to help her in the hour of difficulty. 
Later, when her anxiety was over, she 
knelt down and thanked the Power in 
which her sister trusted : but she remem- 
bered all her life that while the danger 
lasted all her prayer was a suppressed 
repetition of the name that had lately 



172 LADY LAURA. 

grown so clear to her. She remembered 
that though Sarah had said that Egmont 
was in the boat as well as Maurice Heme, 
she hardly thought of him at all. Like 
the Maid of Craig-y-don, she had left her 
own people to follow a stranger, and her 
punishment was coming — she would be 
left alone in deep waters to stretch out 
her arm vainly for a vanished help. 

Her sister sat with her for about 
half-an-hour, and then, the storm being 
well over, she wished her good-night and 
left her, promising to come back as soon 
as she had any tidings to impart. ^ You 
are quite sure you do not mind being left 
alone ? ' she said. 

^ Quite sure,' answered Laura. ' The 
storm is over and there is nothing more 
to fear.' 

* Because if you mind in the least, I 
will stay.' 

* No, no,' said Laura. She was im- 



LADY LAURA. 173 

patient now for Sarah to be gone — she 
could not endure much longer the re- 
proach that she had come to feel in her 
presence. But when she was really alone 
solitude grew horrible again, and unable 
to lie still in bed, she rose and went to 
the window to look out upon the night. 
She knelt down and rested her arms upon 
the window-sill and strained her eyes to 
see through the darkness in the direction 
where the danger lay. But she could see 
nothing, and the horror of her loneliness 
increased, till at last the cry of her heart 
became articulate and she moaned aloud, 
' Oh, Maurice, Maurice ! ' 

Then her head sank upon her hands, 
and the long-pent tears flowed in the 
darkness. 

She did not know how long she re- 
mained so ; but when she looked up 
again the clouds were breaking and a 
few stars shone faintly through the 



174 LADY LAURA. 

gloom. She felt calmer — the tears had 
relieved the overstrain of her nerves, and 
a dull quiet had fallen on her senses. 
She had ceased to feel, but she had not 
yet energy to think — she could only keep 
still, and let what fancies would float 
before her mind's vision. Weird, terrible 
fancies they were, but she looked on at 
them unmoved. 

The night was peopled with strange 
faces — grinning, horrible, grotesque ; in 
turn they beckoned her with unearthly 
gestures, and then when she looked at 
them with closer attention, one face after 
another became like Maurice and looked 
at her through the darkness as he had 
looked upon the sands — only the face was 
white and haggard as with long suffering, 
and sad with an infinite and hopeless 
yearning; and all the others seemed to 
say, ^ There is a great gulf fixed.' . . . 
Then Maurice was dead and his soul had 



LADY LAURA. 175 

passed into the unknown world — into 
far regions of which she knew nothing, 
whither she could never follow. He was 
outcast by God because of his unbehef ; he 
was alone and sorrowful, yearning for a 
word of sympathy or a look of love, and a 
great gulf of silence divided her from him. 
She had let him go without telling him 
she loved him, and now it was too late. 
She might cry out, but he would not 
hear; she might stretch her hand out 
into the darkness, but it could not reach 
his han3 ; her heart might break to beat 
against his, but he would never know it 
through all the ages of eternity. . . . 
Then the vision changed again, and it 
was she who was outcast and miserable. 
He had died nobly, sacrificing his Hfe for 
others, and his spirit had found rest. 
But she could not join him, for her faith 
was not like his, and she was not worthy. 
He was happy among souls that knew his 



176 LADY LAURA. 

excellence — happy without her. And 
Laura, alone with her own soul in the 
darkness, knew that this vision was worse 
than the one that had preceded it. * 
God ! ' she murmured to herself, ' anni- 
hilation would be more bearable, — for him 
now, and by-and-by for me.' * Annihila- 
tion ' she repeated over and over to her- 
self. The word had till now been ol 
utmost horror for her, but in comparison 
with other possibilities she began to 
discover comfort in it. Sh^ rose from 
her knees and walked up and down the 
room, trying to get rid of the numbness 
that possessed her, and to realise that 
body and soul were still one and alive. 
Then she came back to the window. 
The clouds were more scattered and the 
stars were getting brighter. One star. 
struck her as more brilliant than the 
others. She fixed her eyes upon it. It 
was Maurice's spirit — far away, unattain^ 



LADV LAURA. 177 

able, but still visible. She kept it in 
view ; every now and then a cloud passed 
over it and hid it for a moment, then it 
emerged again. The clear space in the 
sky was growing larger, but there were 
still ominous masses of cloud towards the 
west where the storm had been heaviest, 
and they were moving slowly in the 
direction of the clear space. Would 
they swallow up her star and engulf it 
once more in blackness ? They were 
very near ; her heart beat nervously, — the 
foohsh superstition had taken hold of her 
. imagination. If the star was hidden 
Maurice would be lost. She held her 
breath while she watched. 

But while there was still a space like 

► a handbreadth between the star and the 

- edge of the advancing clouds, her atten- 

'tion was recalled from fancy to fact. 

Footsteps were coming towards the house, 

and, with the steps, a hum of voices. 

VOL. n. 12 



178 LADY LAURA. 

She opened her window noiselessly and 
leaned out, trying to distinguish faces 
and figures. But all she could see 
was a confused group, and the voices 
were subdued so that it was impossible 
to tell what was said or who was speaking. 

She heard the house-door open and 
close again. Then all was still. She put 
on a dressing-gown, crept to the door and 
waited, thinking surely Sarah would come 
soon and tell her how things had gone. 

Some one was coming upstairs. She 
recognised Egmont's step and went out 
to meet him. He was hurrying along 
the passage and he did not see her — he 
was brushing by her in the darkness. 
But her suspense was not to be borne 
a moment longer. ^Egmont,' she said, 
^ tell me, are you safe ? ' 

Egmont started. ^ Good Heavens, 
Laura ! is it you ? Yes, thank God, I am 
safe; but it has been an awful night. 



LADY LAURA. 179 

Where is Sarah ? ' And without waiting 
for an answer he hurried on in the direc- 
tion of Sarah's room. But when he had 
gone a few paces he turned hack, and 
seeing Laura still standing in the passage 
straining to catch sounds from the hall, 
he said, ^ You had better go back to your 
room, Lam^a. I will come to you as 
soon as possible ; but I cannot come 
now. Whatever you do, don't go down.' 
Laura had not thought of going down ; 
bat now the earnestness with which her 
brother begged her not to do so, revived 
all her fears with exaggerated intensity. 
W^hy should he be in such a hurry to 
find Sarah, why so determined that she 
should not go down ? It could only 
have one meaning, too horrible to be put 
into words. She would not be kept out 
of the w^ay, she who had a better right 
to be present than any one. She flew 
along the passage and down the stairs, 



i8o LADY LAURA. 

not pausing till she was in the hall. 
There she stopped suddenly, bewildered 
by the glare of light and confusedly 
conscious of a number of people crowd- 
ing together round something at the far 
end of the hall. She tried to take in 
the scene, glancing hurriedly from one 
face to another. She saw her brother- 
in-law talking gravely to Mr. Burrell 
Jones, who looked haggard and unlike 
himself. Mr. Fenton was there, and all 
the men-servants, and one or two other 
figures that were unknown to her. But 
the one face that she was seeking was 
not there. All at once she realised that 
the something round which they were 
gathered was the body of a man. She 
felt a sudden sickness and a pang at her 
heart like a sharp physical pain, and, 
clutching at the banister, she bent down 
and gave a low moan. 

^ I do not think you ought to be here,' 



LADY LAURA. i8i 

said a voice close beside her, at sound of 
which she gave a cry of joy and started 
forward with outstretched hands : — 

* It was not you then, — oh, thank God 1 ' 

Heme took her hands tenderly and 
held them for one moment's space, 
during which their eyes met in a mu- 
tual claiming look. Then he put them 
reverently aside : this was no moment 
for lover's speech. ' Hush — sh,' he said, 
motioning her hack with a mixture of 
respect and authority in his manner. ' I 
think you must not come further. You 
are faint, let me help you upstairs. 
There is a poor fellow dying there. We 
have done what we could for him, but I 
fear there is no hope of bringing him 
round.' 

' Hying — who is dying ? ' asked Laura. 

^ It is Williams — the man we talked 
to this afternoon. He behaved Hke a 
hero at the wreck. But it was in coming 



1 82 LADY LAURA. 

back that it happened. We got into the 
current, and the boat was carried on to 
the reef by the landing-place, and it was 
smashed. We were close in, and he got 
crushed against a rock. He was terribly 
injured. I fear there is no doubt he is 
dying.' 

' Dying ! ' she repeated with an accent 
of horror on the word. She had Hved 
eighteen years in the world and had 
not yet seen any one die — no gap had 
opened in the circle of her loved ones. 
No one near or dear to her had yet passed 
out of the living world. Death was for 
her a word, a spectre — a far-off, unreal 
terror. She had fancied indeed just now 
while she was alone in the dark, going 
through in imagination all the misery 
involved in the loss that seemed to 
threaten her, that she had met death face 
to face and grappled with its utmost 
horrors. But now she realised how far 



LADY LAURA. 183 

fact surpasses the most lively imagining. 
She had thought of death as striking the 
life that was dearest to her, and she had 
said to herself with shame that, that life 
spared, no other blow could touch her — 
that father, mother, brothers, sisters, all 
had grown indifferent to her in compari- 
son with the new absorbing love. And 
now Heme told her that Owen Williams 
was dying, and in a moment all personal 
feelings sank abashed in the presence of 
a sorrow that had fallen on a household 
hardly known to her. ^ Dying ! ' she 
repeated. ' But is it certain we can do 
nothing ? We are so many. ... Oh 
sm^ely, there must be help. Where is 
Sarah ? ' 

Sarah was coming down the staircase 
with Egmont, too much occupied with 
the thought of the dying man to be sm*- 
prised at seeing Laura. She gave a 
questioning look to Heme, who answered 



i84 LADY LAURA. 

low, ' I fear it is all over,' and then went 
on towards the place where Williams was 
lying. 

' Let me come with you ? ' said 
Laura, and Sarah let her take her hand 
and accompany her. She knew she 
could do no good, hut a feehng like 
remorse hindered her from going hack 
to her room. While others had been 
helping, suffering, dying, she had been 
wholly occupied with her o^ti morbid 
imaginings, and now, as she looked on 
the face of the dead man, it seemed to 
upbraid her with selfishness, and her own 
words of thankfulness, uttered on hearing 
that it was not Heme, came back upon 
her mind with a meaning akin to murder. 
The doctor let fall the dead hand, and 
said in a low distinct voice that sounded 
all over the hall, — 

^ It is all over. There has been no 
respiration for several seconds. There 



LADY LAURA. 185 

is nothing more to be done, Lady 
Sarah.' 

And then the silence in which they 
had been standing for several minutes 
was exchanged for a general murmur of 
subdued conversation about what should 
be done with the body and how the sad 
inteUigence should be carried to the 
widow. 

' It is all over,' Laura repeated to her- 
self, ' and there is nothing more to be 
done.' And she went near and looked 
long and steadily upon the face of the 
dead man. She was by nature timid, 
and yesterday she would have shrunk 
from the sight of death. But she felt 
that it belonged to her new part in life 
to shrink from no facts of existence ; she 
must not any longer be a child, but a 
brave and helpful woman, familiar mth 
the trouble and sadness of the world. 
Besides it seemed cowardly to shrink fi'om 



1 86 LADY LAURA. 

the poor dead body to wliicli, but a few 
hours ago, so many weak ones had looked 
for help — cruel to turn away and leave it 
alone with death. 

Oh surely it is not a wholly morbid 
feeling that makes us hnger sometimes 
in the presence of the calamity we cannot 
undo, and the hours are not wasted 
during which we wait silently looking 
in the face of the inexorable power 
from which all our yearning can win 
nothing back ! Surely if it is well to 
admire the might of man and to grasp 
the fulness of his knowledge, it is well 
also to have felt his helplessness and to 
have bowed in humbleness before the 
veil that hides the infinite mystery his 
science cannot penetrate — accustoming 
our hearts to patience and our intellects 
to the high wisdom of knowing that there 
is a limit beyond which they cannot go. 
And perhaps it is doubly well for the 



LADY LAURA. 187 

prosperous, whose day of sorrow is so 
long deferred that Fate seems to have 
forgotten them, to look betimes beyond 
the charmed circle of their individual 
lot and learn the look of sorrow and 
touch the hand of death, so that when 
theii' day comes at last they may know 
how to submit, and in the meantime it 
may not be said of them, — ' They are so 
happy that they cannot understand the 
sorrows of their brothers.' 

Not that Laura argued thus as she 
drew near to the dead body from which 
others were drifting away, intent on talk 
about necessary details of arrangement. 
She merely followed an instinct of sym- 
pathy and the promptings of that un- 
reasonable self-reproach we all feel in the 
presence of a catastrophe that has fallen 
upon another while our thoughts have 
been seK-absorbed. 

At last Egmont called her away. 



i88 LADY LAURA. 

* You must not stay here any longer,' he 
said, kindly ; and he took her up to her 
room and made her promise to go back 
to bed. And an hour later, as she lay 
with sleepless eyes fixed on the dark 
window, watching wearily for the late 
winter dawn, she heard him open her 
door gently and look in. 

' Egmont ! ' she called, and he came 
to her bedside and knelt down beside 
her and put his arm round her neck ; 
and then she cried upon his shoulder 
and clung to him, begging him not to 
leave her till it was light. ^ It has 
all been so terrible,' she said ; ^ and I 
cannot get it out of my mind.' 

So he sat with her t^U morning, 
telling her about the shipwreck and the 
danger they had run in the lifeboat. 
And as they talked over the horrors of 
the night, saying simply the first thing 
that came into their heads, each sure 



LADY LAURA. 189 

of the sympathy of the other, Laura 
felt that the old childish days had 
come back again when she and Egmont 
were all in all to one another; and 
she wondered more and more that she 
conld have dreamed for a moment that 
any new experience could blot out the 
old ones, or a new love be to her instead 
of the tried affections that had so grown 
with her growth that her very being 
seemed made up of them. 





CHAPTEK VIII. 

' Calling him lord.' 

EENE had gone back to Lon- 
don before Laura appeared 
next morning. And Lady 
Sarah gave her a message of good-bye 
from him, adding to it the information 
that he would come back for one day and 
night towards the end of the week as 
arrangements were being made for a 
pubHc funeral for Williams in which all 
the village would take part — those who 
had rowed with him in the boat acting 
as pall-bearers in accordance with the 
custom of Llanoun. 

The respite thus gained was very 



LADY LAURA. 191 

welcome to Laura : she hoped that before 
Heme's return she might have recovered 
in some measure the calm that had come 
to her in the hour when she knelt by her 
bedside and meekly took her crown of 
womanhood. That hour seemed now 
very far away and its peace fled for 
ever. And hke one who, after partaking 
in a solemn rite in which his soul has 
risen above all weakness of body and 
worldUness of mind to commune face to 
face with the Spirit of Eternal Good, 
finds on returning to the busy street that 
his exalted mood is no safeguard against 
the disfcractions of the world, and is 
tempted to call in question the teaching 
of the sacramental hour, so she doubted 
now the reality of the inspiration that 
had seemed so strong and proved so 
weak. For a brief space her spirit had 
touched the Highest and she had thought 
that henceforth all life would be illumined 



192 LADY LAURA. 

by the sacred flame kindled in the con- 
tact. But, as the intolerable glory faded 
quickly from the face of Moses, and the 
divinely-graven tablets were shattered 
in wrath at sight of the perverse nation 
revelling around a golden calf, so her 
light had gone out and the new law of 
a consecrating love that had seemed 
given to guide her steps aright had 
fallen into meaningless confusion. The 
doubts that had been put to flight by the 
declaration of Heme's love had now 
returned, and her high sense of the obli- 
gation to be faultless that his love im- 
posed, seemed to increase their urgency 
without making her more fit to deal 
with them. The thought of Cassandra's 
claims came back now with torturing im- 
portunity, while in her doubts as to the 
Tightness of joining herself to one who 
denied the faith to which she had been 
bred she found another difficulty in 



LADY LAURA. 193 

which she could get no hel^) from any- 
one : she felt that it was a question for 
her own conscience only. 

It was matter of thankfulness with 
her that during her days of respite she 
was left very much to herself. Lady 
Sarah was continually occupied, and, of 
the guests who had heen staying in the 
house, the greater number went away on 
the day after the storm. The Cour- 
tenays returned home, the Walworths 
and Lady Mary Yane went on to Ard- 
gwen, and Fraulein Stahl, thinking that 
Lady Sarah would probably be glad to 
have as few people staying in the house 
as possible, considerately invented an 
engagement in London. Only the 
Burrell Joneses and Mr. Fenton re- 
mained, besides herself and Egmont. 
Mr. Jones was to take part in the fimeral 
service and Fenton of course could not 
be spared. 

VOL. II. 13 



194 LADY LAURA. 

Once or twice Laura thought of going 
home before the day on which Heme was 
to come back, but to do this would have 
involved an explanation with her sister, 
a course towards which she felt a growing 
disinclination. So she stayed, and when 
Heme came back to Llanoun on the day 
before the funeral, she was still there ; 
and when the afternoon and evening 
went by without his saying or looking 
anything that showed remembrance of 
her unguarded words on the night of the 
wreck, she began to think that perhaps 
after all he had not noticed them and 
that he would return finally to London 
without seeking further speech with her. 
She said to herseK that it would be over 
now in a few hours. And as they all 
walked to the church together next 
morning she felt that the burial to which 
she was going, was that of all the sweetest 
promises that life had yet spoken to her. 



LADY LAURA. 195 

It was in a solemn silence of close- 
pressed lips and tightened hearts that 
the population of Llanoun walked in black 
procession behind the coffin that bore 
Owen Wilhams to his resting-place in 
the Httle graveyard by the sea. Men, 
women, and children were there, rich 
and poor knit together for one short 
hour less by a common sorrow than by 
a common sense of prostration before a 
power greater than man. Differently, 
each from each, they felt the occasion 
of their gathering — the loss of father, 
husband, friend, old neighbour, new 
acquaintance ; but all had a common 
note in the mute amazement of soul that 
comes in the presence of a calamity not 
referable to human responsibility. 

Laura's thoughts wandered a good deal 
during the service, and when she called 
them back to attention she was painfully 
conscious of dissent. She could not but 



196 LADY LAURA. 

remember the passionate rebellion of her 
spirit when it had seemed that the threat 
of the tempest was aimed at her own 
heart ; and, rebelling for others now as 
she had rebelled then for herself, she felt 
towards the bereaved family and all the 
mom-ners and sufferers of the world a 
sudden outleap of sympathy that had 
something of the indignant colour that 
our compassion takes when it is enlisted 
on behalf of an oppressed people. The 
universe seemed to confront her in a new 
aspect : she saw men struggling together 
in close-ranked brotherhood against a 
strong, unpitying Fate of which the in- 
struments were storm and disease and 
pestilence and death. She could not 
join in prayer or praise, for prayer and 
praise were alike addressed to him whose 
hand was said to arm the tempest and 
to spread the pestilence. God aj^peared 
to her as a Destroyer, and her sympathies 



LADY LAURA. 197 

were witli the victims. She tried to listen 
to the sermon and to find comfort in the 
reiteration of , the stock phrases by which 
optimist theology justifies the ways of a 
God all-loving and all-mighty to the 
doubting hearts of those whom he has 
stricken. But in vain. The arguments 
of the preacher carried no conviction — 
his exhortations left her cold. She re- 
membered how she had once reproached 
Heme for wishing to take their last 
comfort from the miserable — she thought 
now that their comfort was no comfort. 
She began to understand how for all 
whose worship has its centre outside 
the human world, the lessons of such 
hours must needs be dark, and how only 
those who have learned to recognise the 
moral blindness of the universe, and 
whose help is in the loyal hand-grasp of 
their brothers, can find their religious 
trust quickened and its bonds strength- 



198 LADY LAURA. 

ened by the calamity that man has not 
contrived. And she yearned towards 
those whose trust is in a Providence that 
does not claim to be almighty. She 
thought there would be consolation in 
belonging to a communion of which the 
bond was a sense of mutual dependence, 
and to whom every blow of Fate would 
come but as a signal for the rallying of 
comrades — an occasion for extending the 
human sympathy that is the sole support 
of stricken man. 

When the sermon ended and the con- 
gregation bowed their heads in reverence, 
Laura drew hers up in involuntary pro- 
test, and as she did so her eyes met 
Heme's, and she knew that he was 
feeling with her. 

A few hours later she was sitting in the 
window-sill of her favourite little room, 
looking sadly out upon the park, where 
the boughs torn off by the storm still 



LADY LAURA. 199 

lay scattered in disorder. She was very 
pale, and there were large dark circles 
under her eyes, and every now and then 
her lips quivered and her brow contracted 
as though she were struggling to com- 
mand some painful thought. She was 
saying to herself for the hundredth time 
that Heme would go back to London 
without speaking to her further, and that 
it was well that he should do so — he was 
bound to Cassandra, as she had always 
thought, and his feeling for her had been 
a passing movement of unfaithfulness for 
which she was herself probably to blame. 
He would go away and forget her, and 
right would be done, and by-and-by she 
would be strong enough to be glad. 

If only he would go without bidding 
her good-bye, and so spare her the pain 
of another interview ! It seemed to her 
that she could not meet him again and 
look in his face and touch his hand and 



200 LADY LAURA. 

hear him say her name — and not break 
out in some wild way. She might have 
been to blame, but surely all had not 
been her fault or her imagining. It was 
not her fancy that he had said he loved 
her that evening on the sands. And why 
should he say it if he did not mean it ? 
Surely it had not been all her fault, and, 
if she had betrayed herself that night, 
he at least must know that she was not 
without excuse. 

She could give him up ; she wished 
him to go back to Cassandra and be 
faithful, but she could not find it in her 
heart to believe that he had not cared 
for her a little. To think that, seemed 
somehow to rob her of existence. 

But Heme had not forgotten, and 
while Laura was praying that he would 
go away without seeing her again he 
was seeking her about the house. He 
had turned back from a walk on which 



LADY LAURA, 201 

he had started with Egmont and Mr. 
Fenton, making the excuse that he had 
some papers which he must look through 
before going back to town ; he had 
sought Laura in the dining-room and 
in the hbrary, and now he was coming 
along the passage through which we 
once saw her flying from Lady Mary's 
admonitions. 

Laura heard his footstep and started 
from her seat, her pale face growing 
suddenly crimson. But before he could 
enter she had turned deadly white again 
and was standing with her face towards 
the window. She did not turn round as 
he came in, but waited as she was for 
him to speak. 

^ Lady Laura,' he said, ' I have come 
to say good-bye to you. I am obliged to 
go back to London this afternoon.' 

' Yes,' said Laura, without lifting her 
eyes from the ground. 



202 LADV LAURA. 

' And I had something else to say- 
besides good-bye/ said Heme ; and then 
he paused, hoping that she would look 
up and give him some encouragement. 
But Laura was motionless and her eyes 
were still cast down. 

* I had a great many things to say to you/ 
continued Heme, — * things which I tried 
to say to you once before. You stopped 
me then, but you have seemed since to 
give me leave to think that you would 
care to hear them. May I say them 
now ? ' 

Still Laura did not speak, and he went 
on. ^ To tell you that I love you as 
I have never loved any woman before 
would be a very small part of what 
I had to say. I wanted to tell you that 
I worship you as the purest and noblest 
being that I have ever known — I wanted 
to thank you for having taught me to 
believe again in the possibility of life 



LADY LAURA. 203 

being grand and pure and beautiful. I 
wanted to tell you all this.' 

Her back was still tui-ned towards him. 
He tried to take her hand, and she with- 
drew it. 

' Why do you turn away from me ? ' 
he said. 

' Leave me,' moaned Laura. 

But he only drew nearer. She was 
trembling visibly. 

' Why should you tremble before me ? ' 
he said. ^ Laura — dearest — look up and 
tell me that I may speak. Will you not 
tell me that what you seemed to say 
the other night was true — that you do 
care for me and that my love is not an 
offence to you ? ' 

But Laui'a stood as if spell-bound. 
With exquisite delight she had heard him 
call her simply by her name, as if she 
were his and there were no more division 
between them. But stronofer than de- 



204 LABV LAURA. 

light was her sense that he was tempting 
her to a great wrong. The image of 
Cassandra rose between them, and she 
felt herseK a traitor to her friend. 
Speech seemed impossible, and yet she 
must speak. She looked up and met 
his gaze steadily for a minute ; then 
turning away again, she stammered, 
^ Cassandra.' 

The name alone uttered at that mo- 
ment had reminder enough in it to 
move Heme disagreeably : the look that 
accompanied it made it impossible for 
him to doubt the meaning with which 
it was spoken. He understood that 
Laura beheved him to be virtually en- 
gaged to her cousin, and he concluded 
hastily that Cassandra herself was an- 
swerable for the belief. A moment ago 
he too had felt compunction towards 
Cassandra, but now compunction gave 
place to resentment. 



LADY LAURA. 205 

^ Cassandi'a ! ' he echoed. ' What has 
Cassandra to do with us ? ' 

^ Oh everything ! ' said Laura ; ^ she is 

the dearest friend I have, and but 

you know.' 

^ 'V\^at do I know ? ' asked Heme. 

'You know — at least I mean — I thought 
— we all thought you were going to marry 
Cassandra.' 

' There is some mistake,' said Heme 
angrily. ' Who has told you that I was 
going to marry Cassandi'a ? It is a 
dream, an invention. Cassandra and I 
are each fi-ee as far as the other is con- 
cerned. We are good friends — that is all : 
at least we were before I heard this.' 

' Oh, what have I done ? ' cried Laura 
in distress. ^ It was my own fancy — 
Cassandra never told me anything — I 
thought it for myself — we all thought 
it. Is it possible that we were all 
mistaken ? ' 



2o6 LADY LAURA. 

'You were very much mistaken,' said 
Heme. 'There is nothing between me 
and Cassandra. She is free and I am 
free. Do you believe me ? ' 

' Yes, I beheve you,' said Laura. 
' Only it seems strange when I had been 
thinking it all along.' 

' But you believe me ? And now you 
will let me speak ? ' 

He spoke confidently as if victory 
were already won. But Lam^a di^ew back 
and said, — 

' Oh no, I have listened too long already. 
I do not know what has happened to me. 
Please do not say anything more. You 
are kind sometimes. Be kind now and 
leave me.' 

' No,' said Heme, ' I cannot leave you. 
Not at least till you have answered me 
whether you love me or not. I have a 
right to ask that question. You gave 
me the right on the night of the storm. 



LADY LAURA. 207 

and you must not send me away without 
an answer.' lie waited a moment, but 
as she did not speak he went on, drop- 
ping the tone of fierce determination in 
which he had begun to one of quiet argu- 
ment. ^Lady Laura,' he said, 'when 
we stood together this morning in the 
churchyard, it passed through my mind 
that in all calamities like death and ruin 
that come from the great forces of the 
world over which man has no control, 
there is this element of good, that they 
strip life for the moment of all artificiali- 
ties and make us feel the true worth and 
sacredness of natural human feehng. I 
had loved you almost from the first 
moment of om- meeting, but till this 
morning I never deliberately purposed 
to ask you to be my wife. I said you 
belonged to another world than mine, 
and that it was my duty to leave you 
where you were happy. But this morn- 



2o8 LADY LAURA. 

ing I took courage and said that my 
love — our love — was a more sacred thing 
than the barriers that the customs of the 
world have built up between us. I said 
to myself that if you cared for me as you 
had given me reason to think you did, 
you would be happier in following the 
impulse of your heart and becoming my 
wife than in stifling your love for the 
sake of rank and wealth. I said that I 
had a right to ask you from yourself, and 
that they were wrong who warned me in 
the name of your happiness to leave you. 
Was I right, Laura — my love ? — tell me 
that I was right ! ' 

He had done speaking, and was stand- 
ing over her waiting once more for her 
to speak, and she had sunk into the 
window-sill and hidden her face in her 
hands. She dared not meet his eyes, for 
she knew what power was in them to 
subdue her weakness. She did not an- 



LADY LAURA. 209 

swer at once. She was trying to reason 
with his arguments — trying to meet him 
on the ground that he had taken. But 
the ground was new to her. She had 
never thought of the difference in their 
worldly position as a barrier between 
them. Barrier enough had been found 
in the thought of Cassandra's prior love 
and the romance of engagement between 
the cousins that her imagination had 
built up, — mountains of separation that 
made it superfluous to inquire whether 
there were also molehills in the waj^ 
But now the mountains were removed 
by a word. And yet she shrank from 
him, almost wishing that she could find 
valid ground for the denial of his suit 
in the difference of rank to which he 
had referred ; for she feared that the 
scruples that held her back, though 
they were real to her with a reality far 
beyond any that belonged to the facts of 

VOL. II. 14 



2IO LADY LAURA. 

mundane life, would seem to him mere 
cobwebs spun by her girlish fancy to be 
brushed away by a stroke of masculine 
common-sense. 

' Was I right, dearest ? ' he repeated 
in a lower tone, of which she felt the 
pleading force thrilling through every fibre 
of her body and compelling her to speak 
though she would fain have prolonged 
for ever the respite silence gave her. 

*You were right,' she said, speaking 
very low as if she would avoid hearing 
the sound of her own words, — ' you were 
right. What has happened during the 
last few days has been so terrible and so 
solemn that we cannot help speaking the 
truth to one another. After that night it 
would be useless for me to pretend that I 
do not care for you. I will not try. I 
think I do not dare. You know that I 
care for you .... But then there is much 
more that you do not know — there is 



LADY LAURA. 211 

She paused. It seemed to her that he 
might laugh if she told him what was in 
her mind, and she could not bear that. 

' What is there ? ' said Heme ; ^ what 
can there be to keep us apart if you do 
love me as you say you do ? ' 

^ Oh there is much, very much. There 
is a gulf between us,' said Laura, de- 
spairingly. 

* I knew the world would say so,' 
answered Heme with a note of bitterness 
in his voice that made her wince. ' I 
knew the world would say that I had no 
right to ask you to marry me. But I 
did not think that you would say so. I 
thought it was you who said that you 
would be miserable in the possession of 
any good that you could not share with 
others. Was it all a dream, what you 
told me that evening on the sands when 
you seemed like an angel from heaven 
come to rebuke my doubt in goodness 



212 LADY LAURA. 

and to cheer me with sympathy in all 
the best feelings of my life ? Was it a 
dream, and are you now angry with me 
because I have asked you to be my 
wife ? ' 

^ Oh no, no ! ' she said, unable to 
endure any longer that he should so 
cruelly misunderstand her. * It is not 
that — you know it is not that. You can- 
not think that I meant any mere diffe- 
rence of rank.' 

' What is it then ? what can it be ? 
Believe me there is nothing — there can 
be nothing — to keep us apart ; ' and he 
came nearer to her, with a movement 
as though he would have taken her to 
himself then and there and held her his 
for ever. 

But she started from her seat and waved 
him off with an imperative gesture. 

^ Listen,' she said ; * only be patient for 
one moment, and I will tell you what it 



LADY LAURA. 213 

is.' Then suddenly changing her tone to 
one of entreaty she said, ^ Oh, do hsten 
and be pitiful ! — I told you that I loved 
you because I was weak and my fear 
drove me to it ... . But there is so 
much besides.' 

^ "What is there ? ' said Heme. 

* Oh ! ' she said, * there is one's love 
for one's father and mother, and for 
one's brothers and sisters, for one's home 
and for all the things that one has been 
brought up to care for — and there is 
one's faith in God.' Once more she 
paused, hoping that he would answer and 
so reinforce her strength by opposition. 
But he was silent, and she had to gather 
up her strength by an inward effort and 
find words in her own mind only. She 
went on desperately. ' And it seems to 
me that since I have known you I have 
somehow drifted away from all these 
things, and that night when you were 



214 LADY LAURA. 

out in the storm I first discovered how 
far I had gone. You are stronger than 
I am. But do not take advantage of my 
weakness, for I must speak the truth to 
you because you know it already, and I 
could not bear that you should despise 
me as you would do if I pretended that 
it was worldly things that stood between 
us. It is not worldly things. It is that 
you are carrying me away, and that I 
am too much confused and bewildered to 
know clearly whether I ought to follow.' 

^ But why should you be afraid to 
follow ? Our love will make a heaven 
for us both in which all mere differences 
of creed will seem of very little conse- 
quence. See how small they must be 
since they have not been able to keep 
our souls apart.' 

But Laura answered sadly, — 
'■ No, no ; they are not small. I said 
there was a gulf between us — and your 



LADY LAURA. 215 

words only help to make me feel how 
wide it is. To you these things are 
nothing — but to me they are everything. 
I could not be content unless we beheved 
together.' 

' We would believe in one another,' 
said Heme. 

* That is not enough,' answered Laura. 
' That frightens me, but in the other I 
think there would be rest. Oh, sm^ely 
there must be truths that are larger and 
more fixed than the love of any man or 
woman. I used to feel that it was so. 
Sarah feels it ; she felt it in the storm 
when I was all adrift and could not pray 
or trust. I think I should feel it again 
in a little time. If you gave me a little 
time to think,' she ended. 

*A little time,' said Heme bitterly, 
* during which all the old influences will 
be about you, and your conscience will 
persuade your heart against me. Oh, 



2i6 LADY LAURA. 

Laura, if I thought you did not love me, 
I would leave you without another word, 
though to leave you would he to give up 
heaven. But you do love me. And yet 
you ask me to leave you. And this I 
cannot do. It is cruel to ask it.' 

* Oh no, not cruel ! ' she said ; * I am 
not cruel — hut I am unhappy. I want 
to go home to my mother. She will 
help me to know what is right. But if 
I ought to decide now, I can only say, — 
Good-bye.' And she held out her hand 
in farewell. But Heme did not take it. 

There was silence between them for 
the space of a few seconds. 

Laura had said ' good-bye,' and she 
had fancied that the word would end 
her struggle — that he would take her 
hand and press it sorrowfully, give her 
one last look, and go for ever. 

But instead of going, he stood in front 
of her, silent and motionless. Her eyes 



LADY LAURA. 217 

were cast down, but she felt that his 
were bent on her. Suddenly she looked 
up and met them in a straight, full gaze. 

He did not move, he did not speak. 
And she did not turn away, but kept 
her eyes fixed steadily on his. It seemed 
to her that she had never really met his 
look before, — never felt its warmth^ or 
drunk its tenderness, — never known how 
large and full and deep it was. 

With every moment now, she felt that 
it was growing more tender and more full 
— larger, bluer, deeper. It w^as as if 
his inmost soul were opening for hers 
to pass into it. 

And all the while he was so still and 
calm, as if he knew that he had but 
to wait and she would recall her word 
and come to him. Her own doubt was 
melting under his conviction, her weak- 
ness was yielding to his strength — and 
she could no longer oppose argument 



2i8 LADY LAURA. 

to impulse. Sarah's words spoken in 
the storm came to her mind, — 

' At times liJce tliis^ we can only stand 
still and wait upon the Lord.' 

The Lord ? 

But who and what was Lord ? — Love, 
Conscience, God, or Man ? 

A few minutes ago, she had talked of 
her faith in God, of her home and her 
own people — saying that these stood be- 
tween her and Maurice. And now all at 
once it seemed to her that God and 
home were in the eyes of the man who 
loved her and whom she loved. 

She could not turn away from his eyes 
any more. They held her. They drew 
her. She felt herself rising from her 
chair — moving, in spite of herself, to- 
wards him. 

* Oh, what is it ? ' she moaned, ' what 
is it? ... . Do not leave me. I can- 
not live without you.' 



LADY LAURA. 219 

And she stumbled forward and glided 
upon her knees — to the ground — at his 
feet. ^0 God — Maurice — help me ! ' 

And in a moment he had caught her 
in his arms, and she was clinging to him 
and uttering low broken sounds, and he 
was answering with words of love. 

And she felt that she could never 
doubt again — she knew that for good or 
evil she was his for ever. 





CHAPTEE IX. 

' To him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take 
thy coat also.' 

AUEA stayed on at Llanoun 
for two days more, and found 
confirmation and comfort in 
her sister's sympathy. For Lady Sarah, 
having once taken her part, was eager 
to help her through all difficulties. She 
undertook to propitiate Lord Ehoos, and 
wrote immediately to tell him of what 
had passed, and to beg him to lose no 
time in coming to Ardgwen and doing 
all he could to promote Laura's happi- 
ness, which she most earnestly assured 
him depended upon this marriage. And 



LADY LAURA, 221 

she told Laura that she might count 
with certainty upon his help. At which 
Laura looked doubtful. Sarah's confi- 
dence was, however, not to be shaken. 

^You none of you know Khoos,' she 
said. 

Laura made no answer : she was very 
well aware that she did not know Ehoos, 
but she was none the less sm-e that he 
would not be on her side. 

However, she did not feel afi^aid. 
Heme's love and Sarah's sympathy 
seemed enough to her. She believed 
they would carry her through, and she 
started homewards full of happy con- 
fidence. 

But by the time she reached Ardgwen 
she felt her courage dying away, and she 
wished she had allowed Heme to write 
at once to her father instead of stipulat- 
ing for a week's respite. 

She had said, ' I must have a few days 



222 LADY LAURA. 

to think it over with my mother.' But 
when she found herself at home again, 
it was not to Lady St. Asaph, hut to 
Cassandra, that she thought she would 
tell her story first. 

She went to the rectory directly after 
hreakfast on the day following her return 
home, and met her cousin in the garden. 

Cassandra was on her way to the 
castle, impelled hy a restless anxiety 
for news. The idea that the visit to 
Llanoun would bring Heme to the point 
of a declaration to Laura had never 
once quitted her since the night of the 
dance; and, though she had heard of 
his visit to the rectory on the following 
morning, as he had not followed it up by 
a letter, she had been unable to find in 
it any assurance of an intention to be 
guided by her warning. Indeed the most 
probable explanation of his visit seemed 
to her that, having reflected upon her 



LADY LAURA. 223 

hints and resolved to disregard them, he 
had come from a sense of honour to tell 
her so. The fortnight that had passed 
since had been to her a time of almost 
greater unrest than to Laura herself. 

* It is good for you to come and see me 
so soon,' she said. ^ I was just starting 
to come to you. How are you ? ' She 
smiled as she spoke, and tried to feel that 
there was not necessarily any special 
significance in Laura's prompt visit. 

' Don't praise me, or I shall feel that I 
am a humbug,' answered Laura, going 
straight to the point. ' I have come 
because I wanted to tell you something 
— something that has happened to me 
and that I want your advice about. Will 
you help me, Cassie ? ' 

The forced smile died from Cassandra's 
lips. She knew what was coming, and 
for a moment all power of dissimulation 
forsook her. And yet it was only what 



224 LADY LAURA. 

she had been schooling herself to bear 
for months past — what she had foreseen 
with certainty on the first evening of 
Heme's first visit to Ardgwen. She had 
thought over and over again how she 
should feel when Laura came and told 
her that she was going to marry Maurice 
Heme : she had purposely accustomed 
herself to the idea, so that the fact might 
not take her off her guard. And now 
the moment was come, and Laura was 
standing before her with the news that 
was no news trembling on her lips, and 
she felt as unprepared as though the 
bolt had fallen from a blue sky. 

Laura put up her face to kiss her, and 
she recoiled from her as from some bright 
beautiful creature that has a deadly 
sting. 

Laura was too much pre-occupied with 
her own thoughts to be minutely obser- 
vant of others. She noticed, however, 



LADY LAURA. 225 

that Cassandra started, and she thought 
she must have alarmed her by the 
seriousness of her manner. 

' Oh, don't look like that ! ' she said ; 
* it is not anything dreadful. I did not 
mean to frighten you.' 

Cassandi'a made a weak attempt at a 
smile. But she still avoided Laura's 
kiss. There were half-formed purposes 
within her that would have made it a 
hideous mockeiy. 

She said in a tone of forced lightness, 
'I am glad your news is not dreadful. 
It is a foohsh habit with me always to 
expect bad news when people tell me 
they have something to say to me. 
Come into the house, and we will have 
a chat.' 

But Laura preferred to stay outside. 
It would be easier to tell her story in 
the course of a walk than sitting within 
doors. And Cassandra was of the same 

VOL. II. 15 



226 LADY LAURA. 

mind with regard to listening. So they 
agreed to have their talk in the open 
air. 

They passed out of the garden in 
silence, neither of them speaking till 
they were well away from houses and 
people. Then, when the village was 
behind them and they were alone on the 
hill-side, Laura began her story. 

She went right back to the beginning of 
her acquaintance with Heme, reminding 
Cassandra how she had been prejudiced 
against him before his coming to Ardgwen, 
and detailing step by step of her passage 
from prejudice to her present state of 
feeling. Much she dwelt on her resist- 
ance to the dawning inclination, much 
on her efforts to withdraw herself from 
the new influence. She omitted nothing 
from the narrative save her misconception 
about Cassandra. That was a part of 
the subject she instinctively avoided. 



LADY LAURA. 227 

Not that any doubt remained in her mind 
after Maurice's distinct assertion that he 
and Cassandra were mutually free. She 
believed him entirely and was satisfied 
that her notion had been without foun- 
dation. But the recollection of it was 
disagreeable to her. 

So all that had reference to Cassandra 
was omitted from Laura's confession; 
and Cassandra, walking by her side in 
silence, felt that her own part in the 
affair must have been an illusion — a 
dream that she had dreamed, in which 
she and Laura and Maurice had figured 
with the vividness of waking life, but 
which could have had no existence 
in fact, since all the while Laura and 
Maurice had been playing a drama of 
their own in which she had had no part. 

Was it fancy, she asked herself, that 
she and Maurice had sat together in the 
library on the night of the dance and 



228 LADY LAURA. 

that she had been betrayed into uttering 
words of which the echo still startled 
her inward ear? Was it fancy that 
Laura had come in and discovered them 
in the attitude of love-making? Was 
it possible that she had seen nothing, 
guessed nothing — that there had been 
nothing to see and guess? and had 
she, Cassandra, been ashamed without 
cause? Her mind grew inattentive, 
and she did not observe that Laura had 
finished her story and was waiting for 
her to reply. 

' Well, Cassie, why don't you speak ? 
What do you think ? ' 

* It is for you to think,' said Cassandra, 
startled into attention, and catching at 
the first words that suggested them- 
selves. 

^ Oh, but I have thought, and thought, 
and thought, and I can get no further 
than I was at the beginning. I thought 



LADY LAURA. 229 

you would be able to help me. There 
is no one else who can.' 

Laura's eyes were filling with, tears. 
A great sadness, of a kind new to her, 
seemed suddenly to have entered her life. 
A responsibility had come to her which 
she might not shift on to the judgment 
of another, or even share in sisterly 
equality with her nearest friend. Cas- 
sandra understood her, but she felt no 
compassion and she did not hasten to 
answer. 

No one knew better than she what 
such sadness was. Her own life had 
been steeped in it. And hitherto in 
her intercourse with Laura she had 
striven continually to save her from like 
experience by anticipating with quick 
sympathy the different stages of her 
mind's development. It had seemed a 
sort of atonement to her own poisoned 
girlhood to make its lessons serve to help 



230 LADY LAURA. 

another, and the half-motherly, half- 
sisterly affection that she had cherished 
for Lanra had been one of the best 
influences in both their lives, mellow- 
ing the character of the older woman 
and strengthening that of the younger. 
Amid many painful memories and self- 
condemning thoughts, it made a bright 
spot in Cassandra's consciousness to 
know that she had given Laura such 
friendship as might have made her own 
life happy. And now this was the result 
of it, — Laura had robbed her of the one 
chance of personal happiness that life 
held for her, and she must give her 
sympathy and encouragement and never 
betray the anguish it would cost her. 

For a moment she said to herself that 
she would not do it ; that to pretend to 
rejoice in Laura's joy would be a piece 
of base hypocrisy — a sort of injustice to 
herself that could not be demanded of 



LADY LAURA. 231 

her. What right had Laura to take all 
the happiness and know nothing of the 
cost ? What right had she to ask sym- 
pathy for herself and never stop to think 
whether others did not need it more ? 

It was a moment of terrible temp- 
tation to Cassandra. She knew the 
strength of her influence ; she had but 
to speak a word, and Laura would put 
aside as a perilous snare the joy that 
had been offered her. But that was 
not what she desired. She did not so 
much grudge Laura happiness as rebel 
against her taking it in ignorance of 
its cost. It seemed to her that the one 
soul-satisfying vent her wretchedness 
could find was in blurting out the story 
of her own suffering ; and that, having 
spoken, she could creep aside and bear 
her disappointment silently for evermore. 
Oh ! it had been bitter long ago to learn 
that the world was less fair than she had 



232 LADY LAURA. 

deemed it, but it was far bitterer now 
to know that the fair things she had 
recovered faith in were never to be hers. 
The whole of life had seemed once to 
stretch around her like a grey desert, 
meaningless and boundless. Now the 
desert was narrowed to her own lot, and 
its boundaries were Edens of blessedness 
reserved for others, and her thought of 
sweetest consolation was an impulse to 
lay waste the pleasant places from which 
she was cast out. 

It was a moment of fierce temptation, 
and she was on the point of yielding — 
when Laura slid her hand into hers and 
renewed her appeal for help. 

The familiar touch revived the old habit 
of affection, and she answered involun- 
tarily, ' I will help you all I can.' And 
then, with a grim regret, she realised that 
she had pledged herself to forego the 
barren revenge she coveted. 



LADY LAURA. 233 

Laura's face brightened. 

' I knew you would,' she said ; ' and I 
knew that whatever you might say, you 
would not be hard on him. Because you 
have always taken his part and said it was 
possible to be good and honourable and 
yet hold his opinions ; you do think so, 
don't you ? ' 

* Certainly I do,' said Cassandra ; ^ and 
I think I ought to tell you that I hold 
the same opinions myself.' 

It was a blunt confession, for which 
Laura was wholly unprepared ; though 
it hardly surprised her more than it 
did Cassandra herself, who uttered it 
without premeditation — partly because 
she knew that it would be more sub- 
stantially comforting than the tenderest 
expressions of sympathy, and partly also 
because these were not yet possible 
to her. 

' You I ' cried Laura in amazement. 



234 LADY LAURA. 

* And you go to church and teach in 
the schools and do just like other people. 
How strange ! ' 

* How dishonest ! you might say,' put 
in Cassandra ; * but I am a coward, and 
I do not like to make myself singular.' 

A new vista was opening before Laura. 
It was evidently possible for young 
women to arrive at sceptical conclusions 
without being under the influence of 
sceptical husbands. It might happen 
to her, then, to reject Maurice's love and 
sympathy and find that she could not 
reject his opinions. It might happen to 
her to hold them without sympathy as 
Cassandra had done, and Uke Cassandra 
she might not have courage to be true to 
them. The prospect frightened her. 

' Do your opinions make you very sad ? ' 
she asked. 

^ Oh,' said Cassandra sadly, ^ that is 
an impossible question to answer. Few 



LADY LAURA. 235 

people are altogether happy, and I have 
never been able to see that happiness or 
unhappiness belonged specially to any 
one set of opinions. Happiness is all 
accident, I sometimes think.' 

^ How do you mean ? Surely it must 
make a difference to one's happiness 
what sort of hopes and beHefs one has 
about this world and the next, and one's 
soul, and other people's. To me it seems 
very sad to think as you and Maurice 
Heme do.' 

Cassandra answered more gently, — 
^ That is because you know very Httle 
of what we do think. You only know 
that we disbelieve things you never 
dreamed of doubting till a few months 
ago. To me who have lived outside 
your faith for years, it seems that behevers 
and unbelievers have about an even share 
of happiness. Or perhaps, if I were to 
speak quite honestly, I should say that 



236 LADY LAURA. 

I think the largest share both of joy 
and of son'ow belongs to those who 
are in sympathy with the best thought 
of their own day.' 

* And is that what Maurice is ? ' 

* I think so,' said Cassandra, and then 
they were both silent for a few minutes. 

Suddenly Laura said, — 

* Tell me how you came to have 
opinions like his ? ' 

And Cassandra, who had till now 
avoided her eyes, darted a swift ques- 
tioning look at them. Was it possible 
that Laura had no suspicion ? Evidently 
it was; for Laura did not look away, 
but merely repeated her question. 

Long afterwards, Laura, thinking over 
this conversation by the light of sub- 
sequent events, wondered at her own 
obtuseness, and blamed herself for the 
pain her want of perception had caused 
her to inflict. But while the conver- 



LADY LAURA. lyj 

sation was actually taking place, lier 
interest and curiosity were too fully 
engrossed to leave room for any thought 
outside the immediate question. Her 
own life had grown so large and full 
that it spread over the whole universe 
and translated all facts and all expe- 
rience into language of self. She felt 
it an important fact that Cassandra's 
convictions should be identical with 
Mamice Heme's, but important only 
in so far as it tended in the direction 
of her own wishes. 

'Do tell me how you came to have 
these opinions ? ' she said. 

'It is a long story,' answered Cas- 
sandra, ' and not a happy one.' 

' Then you do think such opinions 
make one sad ? ' 

Laura would not go without her answer 
on this point. And Cassandra was con- 
scious of a growing irritation under the 



238 LADY LAURA. 

pressure. The iron had entered into her 
own soul and left scars on which it was 
intolerable that triflers should lay an idle 
finger-tip. She restrained herself how- 
ever, and answered quietly, — 

* I think all change of belief makes one 
sad. Doubt is terrible, especially if one 
has to meet it alone. And to me doubt 
came when I was very young through 
the influence of a person whom I had 
beHeved to be very good and pure, and 
who proved in the end to be extremely 
bad. It was years ago, when you were 
a child — before I knew Maurice — when 
I was away at school. This woman 
disappointed me and made me doubt, not 
only the goodness and truth of God, but 
the existence of any goodness in man or 
woman. For a long time I believed in 
nothing, in no one, and then I was very 
miserable. But in time I began again 
to believe in my fellow-creatures and in 



LADY LAURA. 239 

the existence of a law of right and wrong, 
but not ' 

*Not in God?' 

^ No, that belief has never come 
back.' 

' Do you wish that it should ? Can 
you be happy without it ? ' 

Cassandra could bear no more : this in- 
sistance upon being happy wore a look of 
insult to her. She broke out impatiently, 
' It is not fah to make my happiness the 
test of truth. I am as happy as other 
people are, when things go well with me 
within and without. You do not sup- 
pose, do you, that people who believe in 
God are always happy, any more than 
they that always do right? It is idle 
cant to pretend that they are, and of no 
use to you, or me, or any one.' 

She spoke with a vehement scorn that 
made Laura wince. She had not meant 
to wound her cousin, and did not under- 



240 LADY LAURA. 

stand what she had said to make her so 
angry. 

'I am very sorry if I have said any- 
thing silly,' she said. 

Cassandra was sorry too. 

'No, no,' she said; * it is I who am 
silly to lose my temper. The fact is, you 
only hinted what all the orthodox world 
says in one way or another, that we who 
do not helieve must be wrong because 
we are not altogether and always happy ; 
and I made a vicarious sacrifice of you. 
But all the same it is a mistake to think 
about happiness when you are seeking 
truth. . . . Oh, Laura, Laura, there is 
very little happiness in the world — so 
little that I sometimes think that the 
chief use of religion is to teach us to be 
content without it.' 

Cassandra stopped ; her voice was 
broken by tears, and she could not trust 
herself to say more. 



LADY LAURA. 241 

'But if- there is so little happiness/ 
said Laura, ' surely there is peace for 
those who are doing right ? ' 

*Yes, there is peace at the end for 
those who have fought on so as to escape 
remorse. But peace is not what you 
think. Life is an awful struggle, and 
peace conies only now and then when 
we are tired out. Or it waits for us, and 
we find it at last when we are old and it 
is too late for happiness. But very few 
are happy.' 

Cassandra spoke in a tone of weary 
despair that discouraged Laura from 
pressing her further. And yet she could 
not rest satisfied without getting some 
advice from her as to how she should 
act in the present crisis. After a silence 
of a few minutes she said, — 

' I think we have wandered away from 
the point. What I want you to tell me 
is what you think would be right for me 

VOL. n. 16 



242 LADV LAURA. 

to do. It does not seem right to change 
all one's opinions for the sake of ... . 
of some one person that one cares for. 
But then I think that, whatever I decided 
to do, I could not go back to my old way 
of thinking. Sometimes the new way 
seems wrong, but more often I think it 
is really more right and more noble than 
the other. And then again — I don't know 
— it may only seem right because I wish 
to think it so. And I want to do right — 
I do really, Cassandra, though I cannot 
help wishing to be happy too. I cannot 
help it, if I am not as strong as you are. 
What am I to do ? ' 

While she was speaking they had come 
to a stile, and Laura, instead of crossing 
it, had stopped walking and leaned against 
the wooden rail. Cassandra was obliged 
to wait too, and in order to avoid Laura's 
eyes, she busied herself with nipping the 
brown buds off a branch of young elm 



LADY LAURA. 243 

that overhung the stile. Every word of 
Laura's was a stab, and for every stab she 
must by-and-by give payment in help 
and sympathy. In the meantime she 
must vent her pain somehow — and the 
innocent elm-buds fell, to save Laura 
from revelations that would have scared 
her from the happiness she was on the 
point of grasping. 

But when Laura put the direct question, 
Cassandra could avoid her eyes no longer ; 
she let the elm-bough swing back and 
turned with desperate resolution towards 
her questioner. 

* What are you to do ? ' she said ; 
'why marry Maurice Heme of course, 
if your father and mother will let you. 
He cares for you and you care for 
him. You will soon think alike on all 
subjects, and you will make one another 
happy.' 

Then she moved away from the stile. 



244 LADV LAURA. 

and, remarking that it was time to turn 
back, began to walk homeward. 

She had said just what Laura wished 
her to say, and yet Laura felt as if she 
had given her a blow, for there was a 
note of irony in her voice as she said, 
'You will soon think alike on all sub- 
jects and you will make one another 
happy,' — as if to think alike and to be 
happy were a sort of childish folly with 
which she could not sympathise and 
would rather hear no more about. 

Poor Cassandra ! it had cost her much 
to say those words. To say them at all 
was heroic, and yet they sounded cruel to 
Laura, as a sacrifice of bulls and goats 
might seem mere butchery to an on- 
looker, ignorant of the sacrificial meaning 
of the act. Certainly she did not mean 
to be ironical, but our words sometimes 
take on a tone without consulting our 
will, and Cassandra's mood just then was 



LADY LAURA. 245 

not free from that bitterness tinged with 
contempt which those who have seen 
storm and shipwreck entertain for idlers 
who trim their pleasure-boats to sail 
beneath a summer sky. 

They walked back to the village in 
silence, and as they parted at the rectory 
gate both felt that their affection for one 
another had suffered a hurt. It seemed 
to Laura that Cassandra had failed in 
tenderness at a moment when tenderness 
was especially due ; and to Cassandra, in 
spite of great efforts to be charitable, it 
seemed that Laura was unpardonably 
obtuse in the absorbing egoism of her 
young love. 





CHAPTEE X. 

Many things, having full reference to one consent, may 
work contrarionsly.' 

;HILE Laura was telling her 
story to Cassandra, Lady St. 
Asaph was nervously awaiting 
her at home. She had received two 
letters, one from Lady Sarah and one 
from Lord Khoos, hoth alluding to 
Laura's love-affair as a thing which must 
have been already confided to her. Lady 
Sarah seemed very clear on the sub- 
ject, satisfied that Heme and Laura 
were well-suited to one another, and full 
of arguments against all possible objec- 
tions that might be raised. Lord Khoos 



LADY LAURA. 247 

merely said that having heard from 
Sarah of Heme's proposal to Lam-a, he 
had put off going to Paris for a few days 
in order to come down to Ardgwen and 
talk the matter over. 

Lady St. Asaph read the letters with 
a sense of bewilderment. Laura had 
said nothing to her on the subject, and 
Laura was not wont to have secrets 
from her. For the rest, she was not 
entirely unprepared. The reader re- 
members perhaps that when the party 
at Llanoun broke up, the Walworths and 
Lady Mary Yane had come on to Ard- 
gwen. Lady Mary had lost no time in 
warning her mother of the dangerous 
position in which she considered that 
Laura stood towards Maurice Heme ; and 
there had been much discussion on the 
subject, in the course of which Lady St. 
Asaph had the satisfaction of receiving 
back from her daughter many admirable 



248 LADV LAURA. 

theories and maxims which she had her- 
self instilled into her long ago. Lady 
Mary said how she believed Laura to 
be in a very sentimental frame of mind, 
and how she thought it a great pity that 
a more practical direction had not been 
given to her training — she had always 
observed that these foolish attachments 
were the result of a vague up-bringing. 
At which Lady St. Asaph winced, for she 
was conscious of having let Laura grow 
up with very little direction. She had 
grown doubtful in her middle-age of 
many of the theories of her youth, and 
having conscientiously trained three 
daughters in the way her earlier principles 
said they should go, she had allowed the 
fourth to take the way of her own tastes 
and temperament. But her conscience 
had never been quite easy in so doing, and 
now that it was hinted plainly that she had 
been blamable, she was without defence. 



LADY LAURA. 249 

She could only ask what there was 
in Maurice Heme that made an attach- 
ment to him of necessity foolish, at 
which Mary shrugged her shoulders 
and remarked dryly that a man of 
thirty who had not succeeded in making 
more mark in the world than he had 
could hardly be hero enough to justify 
an attachment against which there 
were so many a ^priori objections. And 
in this opinion Lady Walworth had con- 
curred. To her mind that sort of man 
was altogether a mistake. It was not 
because he was poor that she objected to 
him, or that she was exclusive about 
birth. Nothing of that sort. Maurice 
Heme was welcome to be anybody's son, 
or nobody's. She would not have cared 
if he had be m a cobbler or a stone- 
mason, provided he stood well on his 
legs and let the world know that he 
chose to be a cobbler or a stonemason. 



2SO LADY LAURA. 

But she objected to Laura's marrying 
a man wlio was' clerk in a Government 
office merely because he had been too 
indolent to make himself anything else. 
Maurice Heme was a pleasant enough 
fellow as he was, and she was always glad 
to have him at her house. But then, 
when he was married, things would be 
considerably changed. He and Laura 
would just be able to scramble along and 
keep two servants and go nowhere. ^ The 
fact is,' said Lady Walworth, * there are 
some people who are like kittens, veiy 
nice till they settle down into middle- 
aged cats, when they are apt to be rather 
in the way. And Maurice Heme, unless 
I am much mistaken, is one of these.' 

It was not very long ago that Lady St. 
Asaph herself had spoken of Heme some- 
what slightingly as a person who wanted 
backbone. And the recollection of this 
prevented her from directly contradicting 



LADY LAURA. 251 

her daughter's opinion. Besides which 
Lanra was her favourite child, and her 
great love for her disposed her to be 
rather exacting as to the qualities of the 
man to whom she should be given. But 
then, on the other hand, her very love for 
Laura disinclined her to say aught against 
the man on whom she had bestowed her 
affection. The idea that Laura cared for 
him placed him on a pedestal and made 
his very- weaknesses look like virtues 
misunderstood. So she gave evasive 
answers to her daughters, and professed 
to think that their solicitude was, to say 
the least of it, premature. 

But this afternoon's letters proved that 
it was not so. Heme had evidently pro- 
posed to Laura while they were staying 
at Llanoun, and the time for evasion was 
past. She must speak to Laura on the 
subject as soon as she came in, and she 
must make up her own mind definitely 



252 LADV LAURA. 

for or against the marriage. This was 
no easy task to Lady St. Asaph, and she 
found herself reading her son's letter 
over and over again in the vain hope 
that she might discover some indication 
of the side to which he leaned ; for 
since he had bestirred himself to come 
down and discuss the matter, she felt 
that much deference would be due to his 
opinion, — or rather she knew that which- 
ever way her own sympathies might tend, 
her action would finally be guided by 
him. For strong-minded woman as she 
was. Lady St. Asaph was much in fear of 
this eldest son of hers, whose way of life 
she wholly disapproved and whose pro- 
bable opinion on any subject in heaven 
or earth she was always helpless to 
anticipate. She could defy her daugh- 
ters ; she had the courage when necessary 
to go contrary to her own traditions ; she 
had ruled her husband for years, but she 



LADV LAURA. 253 

was a coward in the presence of her son. 
She feared him somewhat as ignorant 
populations fear heavenly bodies of 
eccentric and incalculable orbits. 

She was still engaged in reading over 
his letter, when Laura came in perturbed 
and tearful from her unsatisfactory inter- 
view with Cassandra. She was eager 
now to confide in her mother and in- 
clined to be sure of sympathy, if for no 
better reason than that she needed it 
utterly. 

* I have heard from Sarah,' said Lady 

St. Asaph ; ^ and she has told me 

But why did you not tell me yourself, 
my child ? ' 

Laura could not say why, and did not 
attempt to do so. She was only glad 
that the ice was broken, and, without 
more ado, she sat down beside her mother 
and told her story over again. 

It was such a story as Lady St. 



254 LADY LAURA. 

Asaph would probably have heard with 
strong disapprobation twenty or thirty 
years ago ; perhaps even now, had the 
heroine been any other than Laura. 
Her own youth had been lived with- 
out sympathy, and her own marriage 
had been entered upon without love. 
And in arranging the marriages of her 
elder daughters she had been true to the 
traditions of her youth, and had thought 
more of a certain dignified fitness than of 
any special affinity of heart and spirit. 
Indeed though her womanly instinct ex- 
cluded for her children as for herself 
marriages that were not capable of 
developing a sort of dutiful affection 
between husband and wife, the most 
worldly match-making was hardly more 
repugnant to her feelings than a passion 
that could carry a girl into forgetfulness 
of the traditions of her birth and breeding. 
The abandonment of such passionate 



LADY LAURA. 255 

attachments revolted lier sense of the 
supreme obHgation to be at all times 
dignified and decorous, and she seldom let 
pass an opportunity of expressing herself 
strongly in this sense. But, though her 
expressed opinions on the subject of 
matrimony had remained honourably con- 
sistent, her feehngs had undergone a 
very considerable change since the days 
when she consented to marry Lord St. 
Asaph. She had learned that something 
had been wanting to her own marriage. 
And now, as she listened to Laura's 
faltering confession of how she had 
learned to love the stranger, it seemed 
to her that a new revelation had come 
to her in her old age, and she forgot 
prudence and gave herself up to sym- 
pathy. And when at last Laura said, 
^What shall I do, mother? He will 
write in a day or two. He will come, I 
think. What will you say to him ? 



256 LADY LAURA, 

What may I do ? ' the only advice she 
could give was that Laura should follow 
her own heart. * If you love him, marry 
him,' she said. * You will he happy.' 

Laura was startled. She had expected 
her mother to be gentle and sympathetic, 
because to lier she was never otherwise, 
but she had not looked for such un- 
measured sympathy as this. 

^ Do you mean it ? ' she asked. * But 
what will my father say — and Ehoos and 
the others ? ' 

Lady St. Asaph felt uncomfortable ; 
she had forgotten about Ehoos for the 
moment, and did not quite know how 
to answer now. She rose from her seat 
and began pacing up and down the room 
while Laura sat wondering at the strange 
turn that things were taking. Some- 
how since that day when Heme first 
came to Ardgwen and proved a wholly 
different person from what she had im- 



LADY LAURA. 257 

agined, everything had gone contrary to 
her expectation, but nothing that had 
yet happened had siirprised her more 
than the girl-like eagerness with which 
her mother had given the reins to her 
sympathy and overleaped the obstacles 
that had seemed formidable even to 
herself. 

* Do you really mean it, mother ? ' she 
asked again. 

'Yes, yes, I mean it,' said Lady St. 
Asaph, still pacing up and down the 
room and speaking with agitation ; ' I 
mean it. There is no happiness in 
marriage without love. I did not think 
it always, but it is true nevertheless. 

I have felt it I mean, I have seen 

it. Life is difficult, and one must do 
one's duty. But it is easier when one 
loves Much easier. You will be very 
happy, my child.' 

There was a strange expression in 

VOL. n. 17 



258 LADY LAURA. 

Lady St. Asaph's face, a strange emotion 
at her heart. She looked with a sort of 
wistful envy on this young daughter to 
whom she knew that she ought to preach 
w^orldly wisdom. She could not do it ; 
she felt rather incHned to bid Laura 
preach to her. 

So she told her son, when he came in 
the evening. 

^ I have been a fool/ she said, * but I 
could not help it. And it will be the 
same if I have to speak to her again. If 
the marriage is not to be, you must tell 
her so — I cannot.' 

' H'm,' said Ehoos. 

' I know you are thinking it is all my 
fault for having let him come here in the 
first instance. I never thought of any- 
thing of this kind happening. With 
your other sisters, things were different. 
And then we all believed him to be in 
love with Cassandra.' 



LADY LAURA. 259 

' H'm,' said Ehoos again. 

^Did not ijoii think he was going to 
marry Cassandra ? ' 

' Well, no, I can't say I did exactly. 
He only cared for her theoretically.' 

* Bat she cares for him. You think 
that ? ' 

' To say so now would he hardly chival- 
rous, nor yet much to the point ; Cas- 
sandra, not having heen proposed to by 
Heme, cannot marry him ; Laura on the 
other hand lias been proposed to, and 
her case is ripe for consideration.' 

* What is your opinion ? ' 

' I really don't know that I have one. 
What is yours ? ' 

^ Laura is very much in love with him.' 

* So Sarah told me. The storm startled 
her into a sort of declaration.' 

^Hardly that,' said Lady St. Asaph, 
jealous for her daughter's dignity. ^ But 
she seems to have betrayed very strong 



26o LADY LAURA. 

feeling for liim ; so strong that I should 
say, unless there are very serious objec- 
tions to the marriage, it should be allowed. 
Otherwise it seems to me that ' 

* In fact you think that Laura's — what 
I must not call declaration — has com- 
promised her dignity. Is not that it, 
mother ? ' 

* I have some such feeling,' said Lady 
St. Asaph. ^ What do you think your- 
self?' 

*As a man, I cannot pretend to an 
opinion on such a delicate question as 
a woman's dignity.' 

' That is unfair. Men marry women 
and cannot therefore pretend to have 
no opinion on what relates to their 
conduct. Put the case of a woman you 
were in love with ' 

* All would depend on circumstances. 
If I were in love with a woman, and she 
were kind enough to teU me unasked 



LADY LAURA. 261 

that she was in love with me, I should 
certainly think she ought to marry me ; 
but, if she made the same declaration to 
another man, I should think she ought 
not to marry him, as her doing so would 
interfere with my own designs. Such 
questions cannot be decided upon abstract 
principles.' 

' How are they to be decided then ? ' 

Lord Ehoos shrugged his shoulders. 
' By expediency, self-interest, and resig 
nation to the inevitable.' 

' I do not understand you,' said Lady 
St. Asaph. ^ Why will you not tell me 
plainly what you think ought to be 
done ? ' 

* Because I don't know. Probably 
Heme ought to be sent about his busi- 
ness, and Laura married out of hand to 
some more eligible person. But, then, I 
ought equally to marry an eligible person 
and do a thousand things that I never 



262 LADY LAURA. 

shall do, simply because I can't. What 
ought to be done is an unpractical ques- 
tion — I gave it up long ago.' 

^ Then you think Laura had better 
marry him ? ' 

Lady St. Asaph spoke as timidly as 
though it were her own future that was 
hanging in the scales. 

^It is probably the best thing she 
can do.' 

* He is very poor.' 

* Women like poverty. Besides, my 
father's interest will get him something.' 

^ Your father's interest is Conservative, 
and Maurice Heme is an advanced 
Liberal.' 

* Extremes meet. Heme has been 
discovering lately that Kadicalism is only 
the latest development of Conservatism. 
Tory interest, as a stepping-stone to 
Laura's hand, will complete his conver- 
sion.' 



LADY LAURA. 263 

^You think him weak.' 

* No. He is bitten with impracticable 
notions and as inconsistent as most people 
who want to be better than their neigh- 
bours. Not more so.' 

' You like him ? ' 
*Yes.' 

* And your father likes him ? ' 
' Yes.' 

' But you doubt his liking the mar- 
riage ? ' 

' He will want persuading. But I will 
undertake the business if you like.' 

' How will you do it ? ' 

* I shall tell him that Heme is coming 
to ask his permission to marry Laura. 
He will be indignant on principle. I 
shall accept his objections as decisive 
and offer to write instantly and tell 
Heme not to come — alluding incidentally 
to the impossibility of his ever being seen 
in the house again. This will lead to 



264 LADV LAURA. 

reconsideration. My father will reflect 
that Heme is a pleasant fellow — the only 
man in short that he cares much to 
cultivate. We shall discuss the thing 
over again and discover possibiHties not 
thought of before ; and the end of it will 
be that Heme will come and be received 
as son-in-law elect. Will you trust the 
thing to me ? ' 

' Thankfully,' said Lady St. Asaph. 
And then, blushing as Lam^a herself 
might have blushed, she added, 'You 
do not know how happy you have made 
me. I thought you would take the 
worldly view. I can hardly believe now 
that you will not change your mind.' 

Khoos dreaded a scene. He moved 
away and answered drily, — 

'No, my sympathies are really enlisted. 
Laura is as unfit, in her way, for correct 
life in the best English society as I am 
in mine. She would not succeed as a 



LADY LAURA. 265 

great lady, and family pride makes me 
wish to spare her a failure.' 

Lady St. Asaph said nothing : she 
feared she had made a fool of herself 
again. 

* Has anything been seen of Cassandra 
since this affair ? ' asked Ehoos after a 
pause.. 

* Laura was with her to day. I do not 
know what passed between them. Why 
do you ask ? ' 

^ H'm,' said Ehoos once more. And 
there the conversation ended. 

Ehoos found his father rather more 
difficult to manage than he had anti- 
cipated. Nevertheless, the result of 
their interview substantially justified his 
confidence. And before he returned to 
London, it was arranged that, though 
there was to be no actual engagement 
just yet and no correspondence between 
the lovers, still if they both continued 



266 LADY LAURA. 

in the same mind and something could 
be found which would add a little to 
Heme's income, the subject might be 
reopened at the end of six months. In 
the meantime Laura was to go to London 
and prove her constancy amid the pomps 
and glories of a * season.' Lady Wal- 
worth was to chaperone her, and it was 
understood that, as far as possible, she 
was to be guarded against meeting 
Heme. 




CHAPTEE XI. 

' O sovereign power of love ! O grief ! balm ! 
All records, saving thine, come cool, and calm, 
And shadowy, through the mist of passed years ; 
For others, good or bad, hatred and tears 
Have become indolent ; but touching thine, 
One sigh doth echo, one poor sob doth pine. 
One kiss brings honey-dew from buried days.' 

N a corner of Cassandra's room 
there stood an old-fasliioned 
oak cupboard, rudely carved on 
the outside, and furnished within with 
many drawers cunningly contrived as 
secret hiding-places. 

Cassandra had taken a fancy to it at 
a second-hand furniture shop at Cresford 
one holiday-time many years ago, and 




268 LADY LAURA, 

had bought it with her pocket-money — 
thinking it would be a convenient shrine 
in which to deposit all those treasures 
of correspondence and young literary 
effort that marked for her the beginning 
of an individual mental life. 

In it she stowed away the small yearly 
volumes of her journal; the bulkier ones 
into which she copied all that charmed 
her most in reading, the letters that she 
valued, and her own attempts at compo- 
sition; and, later, the memorials of her 
friendship with Maurice Heme. 

It was years since she had opened it — 
years since she had felt any inclination to 
add to its stores. And yet she carried 
in her mind a pretty accurate inventory 
of its contents ; and of some of those 
hoarded relics the thought was almost 
hourly with her. 

Just now they haunted her with espe- 
cial intensity, and after that walk with 



LADY LAURA. 269 

Laura, she frequently found herseK Knger- 
ing before the long-neglected cupboard 
and playing wistfully with its key. It 
seemed to her that, behind those panels 
of carved wood-work, there hved yet the 
past with which she was now called 
to break for ever, and she yearned 
as passionately for a last communing 
with it as a dying one yearns for a last 
embrace of the beloved whose sole pre- 
sence makes the world worthy of regret. 
But as the stern monitions of priestly 
counsellors might intervene between a 
soul claimed for a passionless eternity 
and such last indulgence of unhallowed 
passion, so all thoughts of prudence for- 
bade the act to which she leaned. She 
knew that to open those doors, and 
pore over the papers they enclosed, would 
be to let loose the emotions it was 
already hardly possible for her to stem — 
to turn back and embrace temptations 



270 LADY LAURA. 

from which she had been long-time 
flying. And again and again she thrust 
the key back into her pocket and turned 
resolutely from the tempting doors to 
busy herself about some forced occu- 
pation in the house or the village. 

But at last one night she yielded. 

Through hours of troubled sleep and 
feverish waking, the cupboard and its 
contents had haunted her. Winter 
moonlight was flooding the room, cruelly 
illumining her loneliness. She ached 
for sympathy. She could forego it no 
longer. The past should give it her, 
since the present denied it. 

She got out of bed and possessed her- 
self once more of the key. In a moment 
she had unlocked the door, and the little 
system of drawers that she had not seen 
for so many years was open before her. 

Which should she ransack first ? The 
deep lower one in which were stored her 



LADV LAURA. 271 

letters from Maurice and the rolls of her 
manuscript freely annotated in his hand ? 

Her fingers closed around its handle, 
but they trembled so that she could not 
turn it. 

No, she would not open that drawer 
yet — she would look at some of her 
earher treasures first, and come to these 
later ones step by step, as they had come 
to her in actual fact. 

She took out one of the upper drawers 
and emptied its contents upon her bed. 
They consisted chiefly of extracts from 
favourite writers, and one or two indif- 
ferent poetic effusions of her own. They 
did not interest her much. Neither did 
the moral essays, nor the closely-written 
jom-nals, nor the unfinished romance that 
filled the next, and the next, and the 
next. But she glanced through them 
all in order, with a feeling that to make 
a systematic revision of her past was to 



272 LADY LAURA. 

justify in a manner the final indulgence 
to which it was the approach. 

At last the turn of the lower drawer 
came. 

She no longer hesitated, but drew it 
out quickly and set it on her writing- 
table. Then, kneeling before it, she be- 
gan to empty it with eager, trembling 
hands. At the top lay a little vellum 
book with gilt clasps and corners. She 
did not want to look at that now — she 
laid it on the table behind the drawer. 
Next came the rolls of manuscript — the 
last Heme had sent back to her from 
Oxford. The very paper in which they 
had travelled still curled round them, 
and she could read her address written 
on them in his hand. 

She opened one roll and began reading 
half-aloud to herself. This was a maturer 
work than the pages of poetry and ethics 
that occupied the other drawers. It was 



LADY LAURA. 273 

a translation of Faust, undertaken at 
Heme's suggestion in the days when 
they were most together. Their plan 
had heen to publish it with a critical 
study in the form of a dialogue, which 
should take the drama as its text and 
evolve from it the religious futm-e of the 
world. Only a very small part of the 
dialogue had ever been completed; and 
the translation, though substantially 
written, had never undergone final re- 
vision, for, while it was still in hand, the 
quarrel had happened which had stopped 
their friendship and all its pleasant re- 
sults, and Cassandi'a had never had the 
heai-t to finish alone the task they had 
begun together. 

She began reading her translation, and 
started — half in pain, half in pleasui'e — at 
the discovery that it was a much greater 
work than she had believed at the time 
she was engaged upon it. The theme 

VOL. II. 18 



274 LADY LAURA. 

had been an inspiring one. The disap- 
pointed philosopher eager to part with 
all his knowledge in exchange for a day 
of vanished youth, the man of pleasure 
consumed by inextinguishable remorse 
for the ruin of his plaything, the long 
seeking through the mazes of all time 
and thought for the day worth bid- 
ding linger, the final satisfaction in the 
work of human usefulness — had been her 
gospel ; and, unconsciously, she had inter- 
preted with genius the genius of the poet. 
She recognised this now, and wondered 
how it might have told upon her destiny 
if she had published the work years ago. 
Then, impatient of the vain specula- 
tion, she pushed away the manuscript 
and turned to Heme's own letters. One 
by one, she took them from their yellow 
covers and read them in the order in 
which they had been written. And as 
she read them by the Hght of her ripe 



LADV LAURA. 275 

woman's experience, she saw clearly, 
between the lines of friendship and affec- 
tion, the half- suppressed expression of 
the love she had underrated at the time 
when the letters were written. Then she 
had attended to the matter of the letters 
— discussing the theories, laughing over 
anecdotes, sympathising with the sen- 
timents, encouraging the aspirations. 
Now all these seemed of very small 
account, — the theories were in great 
part exploded or discovered to be old 
truisms under new names, the senti- 
ments and aspirations had had small 
result in action, the anecdotes were of 
people who had faded from her memory. 
But the devotion to herself, that breathed 
in every page, was fresh and living ; and, 
as she read, a sense of triumph came to her. 
He had loved her first, and first love 
was best. What could he give to Laura 
that could compare with what he had 



276 LADY LAURA. 

given lier? The firstfruits of his man- 
hood had been hers, and Laura could 
not take them from her. She had had 
his promise : to Laura he would give his 
failure. And the future would avenge her. 

For had she not evidence that the 
past was not quite dead for him ? That 
evening, when she sang, had he not come 
back to her with full devotion ? That 
other evening, when he stood over her 
and asked her for one word, — promising 
that the future should be moulded by it, — 
was he not in earnest ? She might have 
held him then if she had not been so 
proud, she might have been happy if she 
had not been mad. 

And even now was it too late ? He 
would be coming to Ardgwen, and they 
would meet, and she could recall him 
if she would. A song would do it, a 
word, a look ! And why should she for- 
bear ? For whose sake ? For Laura's ? 



LADY LAURA. 277 

Would Laura care to marry him if she 
could see these letters and know the full 
significance of the scenes at the piano 
and in the library ? 

Cassandi'a's face grew very hard in the 
moonhght. The last letter was read and 
returned to its cover. And she stood by 
the table looking hungrily into the drawer 
that was empty now, save for a few torn 
fragments of cardboard that lay scat- 
tered at the bottom. Some touches of 
colour on one of them caught her eye 
and started a new train of memories. 

The bits of cardboard were fragments 
of a sketch she had made of Made- 
moiselle Azvedo in the days when she 
worshipped her, and had torn to pieces 
afterwards in the rage of her disap- 
pointment. She had entirely forgotten 
that they were there, and now, as she 
identified them, she was conscious of a 
leap of sympathy towards the sinning 



278 LADY LAURA. 

woman whom she had so mercilessly 
condemned when life was still a thing 
of theory. 

She felt no inclination to condemn her 
now. She was conscious of thoughts that 
lowered her to her level, of passionate 
impulses that might master her in an 
unguarded moment, of moods in which 
she almost prayed to be led into tempta- 
tion. Between her and the outlawed 
woman whose picture she had disfigured 
in her girlish indignation she felt that 
there was little difference now but what 
was due to circumstances. And Cas- 
sandi-a was no Pharisee. For her, the 
whited sepulchre was a place of corrup- 
tion equally with the unwhited. 

' Poor sinning woman ! ' she thought ; 
* perhaps you too had striven to be good. 
Perhaps you suffered and were lonely. 
And perhaps I, some day ' 

But there she checked her thought. 



LADV LAURA. 279 

Her fingers played nervously witk the 
bits of cardboard ; she wondered whether 
they were all there; she wanted to see 
the face again. 

Suddenly it occurred to her that it 
might be possible to restore it, and she 
began putting the pieces together. The 
occupation fascinated her — she grew 
absorbed in it, and forgot the letters and 
papers that had engrossed her a few 
moments before. Bit by bit the picture 
grew together, till at last the whole face 
was before her — the beautiful face that 
had once exercised such a powerful in- 
fluence upon her. She stood a little 
back and looked at it. 

The face was very beautiful, certainly ; 
but somehow it no longer fascinated her. 
There was something in it that repelled 
her. She wished that she had not re- 
stored it. 

Then, with a sudden movement of 



28o LADY LAURA. 

compunction, she bent down and kissed it 
tenderly, as though it had been the face of 
a sister whom she had ignorantly wronged. 

As she did so, an accidental movement 
of her arm pushed aside the drawer and 
dislodged the little vellum book that 
rested on the edge of the table. It fell 
against the fender, and its corners rang 
hard upon the steel. Cassandra started 
in terror, unable for a moment to resist 
the impression that the noise was of 
supernatural origin. She was however 
quickly reassured by seeing the book 
Ipng on the floor. 

As she stooped to pick it up the door 
opened and her mother entered. 

* Cassandra, what is the matter ? ' she 
asked anxiously. ^ I heard a noise. Are 
you ill? What are you doing with all 
those letters ? ' 

It was painful to Cassandra to be 
interrupted at such a moment, and she 



LADY LAURA. 281 

would have given much that her mother 
should not see the papers with which 
she had heen occupied ; for, on all the 
things to which they related, there had 
been silence between them always, and 
she could not bring herself suddenly to 
lay bare her griefs. She could not open 
her heart to her mother, and, that being 
the case, her p esence was an added 
pain. 

She made no attempt however to con- 
ceal either the picture or the letters that 
lay on the table : such small artifices 
were not in her way. 

She came forward and took her mother's 
hand, meaning to lead her back to her 
room and say simply that just now she 
could not be disturbed. But when she 
looked into her mother's face, she ex- 
perienced a sudden revulsion of feeling. 
The expression of it was very sad, and 
the eyes were red with weeping — they 



282 LADV LAURA. 

showed signs of more than one night's 
sleeplessness. Cassandi'a knew instinc- 
tively that she was herself the cause 
of the tears and the sleeplessness. Her 
mother was grieving apart for her, 
longing for the confidence she could 
not give. 

Cassandra often pitied herself for having 
a mother who could not enter into her 
hest thoughts and most real life ; now she 
reproached herself for being a daughter 
who was so little daughter-like. She 
laid her hands gently on her mother's 
shoulders and kissed the worn face ten- 
derly — as she had kissed that of the 
singing-mistress a few seconds ago. 

* Dear mother,' she said, * there is 
nothing the matter. It was only a 
little book that fell and made a noise. 
I am so sorry it disturbed you.' 

*But why are you not in bed, my 
child ? You should not sit up all night 



LADY LAURA. 283 

like ttds. You will be ill. Why do you 
do it ? ' 

* I do not do it as a habit, mother. I 
was looking through old letters, and they 
interested me. I could not tear myself 
away from them. But now I am going 
to bed as soon as I have cleared away 
all this litter.' 

* Let me help you. And then I will put 
you to bed.' 

Cassandra shook her head. 

* Then let me wait while you put the 
papers away. I want to see you in bed. 
It makes me uneasy to know you are 
unhappy; for you are unhappy.' 

Cassandra had sat down on the bed. 
Her mother's presence was becoming 
torture. She rocked herself backwards 
and forwards with her hands clasped 
over her head. 

^ You are unhappy,' urged the mother. 

* Yes, yes,' said Cassandra. * I am 



284 LADY LAURA. 

unhappy, and yon are nnhappy, and it is 
a sad world, mother. But it cannot be 
helped.' 

' Tell me what makes you unhappy,' 
Mrs. Gwynne persisted. 

* Mother, I cannot. It is not my fault — 
but I cannot,^ 

Tl: ere was a ring of agony in Cassan- 
dra's voice that came with sharp reproach 
to her mother's heart. She rose meekly, 
meaning to go. 

' No, no,' she said, 4t is not your fault, 
it is mine. I know it — I say it to myself 
often. I ought not to have sent you 
away from me. But I was weak. — May 
God forgive me, and bless and comfort 
you at last.' 

^ Mother ! ' cried Cassandra ; and she 
clung round her mother's neck, and sobbed 
upon her shoulder as she used to do when 
she was a little child. 

While the embrace lasted, mother and 



LADY LAURA. 285 

daughter felt very near to one another. 
But tears and caresses are but imperfect 
means of expression between human be- 
ings, and articulate confidences remained 
impossible to Cassandra. And so when 
Mrs. Gwynne went back to her room she 
was still in ignorance of the secret of her 
child's distress. 

Cassandra returned to the writing-table 
and began replacing the papers in the 
empty drawer. 

She no longer felt any incHnation to 
linger over them. The past was still 
sweet to her, but she turned resolutely 
fi'om its memories. The likeness of 
Mademoiselle Azvedo was as beautiful 
as ever, but she swept her hand over 
it and reduced it again to unintelligible 
fragments. She was still lonely, and her 
future looked even drearier in the grey 
dawn than in the glistening moonhght 
of an hour ago. Her mother had used no 



286 LADY LAURA. 

arguments, and she had made no attempt 
to reason with herself. But, through that 
short interview, she had passed into a 
new phase of feehng, in which she felt 
ashamed of the selfishness of the mood 
it had displaced. What right had she to 
he so greedy for happiness while so many- 
were unhappy ? What right to be reck- 
less and unprincipled while her life was 
a care to another? The vision of her 
mother's sadness touched her with a 
keen remorse. She knew herself to be 
the cause of it, and she could do nothing 
to reheve it. But she could add to it 
by giving the rein to such thoughts as 
had been with her to-night. And this 
she would not do. For her mother's 
sake she would still try to be good and 
resist the temptations of despair. 

It was generally so with Cassandra. 
All strong currents of emotion were sure 
sooner or later to carry her beyond the 



LADY LAURA. 287 

personal joy or grief, in which they had 
their origin, into some larger channel of 
sympathy with others. But hers was a 
nature to wliich abstract names of right 
and wrong appealed but weakly; the 
faith she lived by was fed by no personal 
or impersonal hopes to be realised in an 
inconceivable hereafter; right was not 
right for her imless it would bear fruit 
in visible increase of human happiness, 
nor wrong wrong unless it added to the 
great tale of human woe ; to do justice 
though the heavens fell was a motto of 
insanity, for justice was not justice unless 
it bore the heavens up. Hence, moods 
of scepticism were very frequent with her 
in the long waiting times that go before 
the harvest, and she was quick to cry out 
that sacrifice had been in vain and right 
life a mad ideal — to repent of unselfish 
action and cry out with passionate 
egoism for a fuller share of the joys of 



288 LADY LAURA. 

humanity. But from such moods the 
sHghtest hint of another's pain never 
failed to call her back. While any 
suffered because wrong had been done, 
she would suffer with them; while any 
toiled, however madly, along the hard 
path of right, she would stand by them ; 
for joy would be no joy to her if it came 
stained with the tears of her brothers. 
So many a time has the image of a 
crucified God proved a more potent 
appeal to the fidelity of Christians than 
the joys or terrors of a far-off heaven 
or hell, and the ranks of the martyi^s 
have in all ages been fed by chivalrous 
loyalty to those who have suffered before. 
Cassandra replaced the torn picture at 
the bottom of the drawer and heaped 
Heme's letters on the top of it; and 
then she put the drawer back into its 
place, locked the cupboard, and thrust 
the key into an unhandy place. But the 



LADY LAURA. 289 

Faust manuscript she purposely kept out, 
thinking that in completing it she might 
find a wholesome distraction for her mind 
during the trying months that lay before 
her. 

The little vellum book remained out 
also. By accident she had left it lying on 
the floor. She discovered it after she 
had closed the cupboard, and, as she 
picked it up, she began involuntarily to 
read the passage at which it had opened 
in falling : — 

^ What name shall we give to the holy 
influence that rises, incense-lihe, from the 
stream of the great human life to brood 
above the chaos of the universe — to the 
infinite "power , many in one^ that folds us 
in its care and saves us, if ive trust it, 
from sinking to the level of the beasts that 
;perish ? 

* We can no longer call it the Spirit of 

VOL. II. 19 



290 LADY LAURA. 

God J for God has become to us a dethroned 
idol, a hieroglyph of which tve Jcnoiv not 
the reading, a riddle darkened by the con- 
fused counsels of impatient ignorance, 

' We hesitate to call it Providence, for 
it seems to us blind in its beneficence. 
Bight is done to-day, and the ivorld is 
blessed on some distant morrow when he 
ivho wrought the blessing has fallen asleep 
doubting whether all his worJc have not 
issued in a curse. Love is lavished, and 
the loved one is not purified by it, but an 
onlooTcer is touched tvith pity and the 
heart of a stranger grows more human. 
Lives are poured out liJce water for causes 
that are not true, and the true cause is 
bettered by the devotion that strove 
against it, 

' The power is blind, but 2ve will not 
call it Chance, for it obeys an unerring 
law, though one so subtle that we cannot 
trace its loorJcings. Evil and good are 



LADY LAURA. 



291 



mixed^ hut good is not evil nor evil good, 
and the fruits of each are after its oivn 
Mild, We may he touched to glorious 
issues hy a gleam from an inglorious life, 
or taught to love the highest hy lips that 
have themselves hissed baseness. But not 
therefore need ive say that all is contra- 
diction. It 10 as not the evil in the sinner 
that charmed our sense lihe music, nor 
the haseness that thrilled our hearts to 
nohleness ; hut rather the undying good 
the evil cannot quench — the deferred pro- 
mise that is not tvholly hrohen, 

^ The jpotoer is good, hut ive zvill not 
call it Goodness. For oftentimes the spot- 
less ones go hy and virtue comes not from 
the77i, the pure ones divell among us and 
save none hut themselves, the righteous 
meet us in the way and rehuJce without 
redeeming. 

* The power is reasonable , hut ive will 
not call it Beason. Nor Might, though 



292 LADY LAURA. 

it is migJdy. For Beason is cold and 
cannot quicken, and Might is pitiless and 
crushes. And the Saving Poiuer is warm 
and tender and life-giving as the bosom 
of a mother. 

' We dare not call it God, But ivhat 
can we say of it that has not heen said of 
God 1 Liilie tlie Father it creates. Lihe 
the Son it redeems, Lihe the Spirit it 
comforts. And wheresoever two or three 
are gathered together in bonds of human 
fellowship, it is there in the midst of them 
to strengthen and to bless. 

' We say we will not call it God. And 
yet no loiver name contents. And so when 
men say to us that God is Love, ive are 
constrained to ansiver Love is God. 

' But some tuill say, Where is this Love 
of which you speak .^ We cannot find 
it, we do not know it. There are none 
who give us good-speed ivhen tve go forth 
to our work in the morning, or luho luatch 



LADV LAURA. 293 

for our return at evening. Alone zve 
have lived, and alone loe must die. It 
is cruel to speali to us of a Love that 
comforts all, 

^ And the Spirit of Love will answer, 
My name is on your lips, hut your 
hearts are closed against me. You 
cry, ^^ "Where, lohereV and complain 
that you cannot find me. And all the 
while I am hnocliing at your hearts and 
you ivill not let me in. Your "brothers 
crowd around you — they are hungry and 
cold and nahed — they are sad and lonely- 
hearted — they stretch out their hands to 
you and find no help. You do not hear 
them, you do not see them — you Jcnoiv 
only your oiun emptiness, your hearts are 
filled with the sense of your own lorieli- 
ness. There is no place in them for me. 

' And others ivill say ivith a bitterer 
sorroiv, We Tcneiv it once and we trusted 
it. We gave it our hearts, and it pressed 



294 LADY LAURA. 

the life-blood from them, and gave them 
back to Its cold and dead. We loved and 
were loved. But our loved ones are gone 
from us. And noio we are alone and 
desolate, and we do not believe in the 
'poioer of Love to save and comfort. 

' A7id again the Spirit will answer, 
I came to you in a human form, clothed 
with beauty and tenderness. I brought 
you the joys of love, and filled your life 
with stveetness. I blessed you in order 
that you might bless. But you tooJc my 
gifts and forgot 7ny commandments. In 
your happiness, you strove not to maJce 
others happy. Being blessed, you did not 
bless. And so love died within you, and 
my blessing was taken away. 

' And others, again, will say upon their 
knees. We do not doubt the power of Love, 
we are not strangers to its stveetness. We 
are not iveary of helloing or impatient 
because the fruits of our labours are small. 



LADY LAURA. 295 

We hnow that if we reaio little, it is 
because we have sown little. But we are 

sad because we have so little to sow 

because our hearts are cold and our 
Jmnds em'pty. We have helj^ed others, and 
loe are ourselves without heli^ ; we are 
hungry, and can find no food — troubled, 
and tve hnow not where to turn for rest. 
And for shame we cannot s^eak i^eace 
to others lohile there is no [peace in our 
own hearts. 

' And to these the Spirit ivill say. Not 
all at once can I bless all my children 
ivholly. For lo I I myself am not whole 
— not one like the God of your fathers. 
Like you I am broken by sorrow, and torn 
by doubt and division. I dwell not in 
Heaven throned and mighty, but on earth 
in tveakness and suffering. I have no 
existence of myself, I live but in the 
hearts of my children. I live while you 
cherish me. When you doubt vie I Ian- 



296 LADV LAURA. 

guish, and if all men should deny me, I 
should cease to he. But while one heart 
Jcnoivs me and clings to me, I may still 
he found, 

^ Therefore if your oivn hearts are cold 
and em'pty seeJc me in the hearts of others. 
And if any ash you for 'peace, and as yet 
you have no ^eace, confess that you are 
desolate, and asJc help of those ivho sought 
help of you. And as you join hands in 
sympathy ivith your hrothers I shall 
return to you, and you ivill Tinoiv my 
voice and he comforted.' 

Cassandra read with trembling emotion. 
The words were her own, written years 
ago, and she had forgotten them. But 
they were true for her still, and they 
brought back the temper that inspired 
them. She had invoked the past that 
she might warm herself at its dead hopes 
and vanished dreams. And the past had 



LADY LAURA. 297 

answered her, though with another voice 
than that which she had craved. Its 
answer was not. in the memorials of per- 
sonal happiness to which she had eagerly 
turned, but here in the little book in 
which she had been wont to pour out her 
thoughts in days of happier inspiration. 
She had laid the book aside as foreign 
to the occasion, and an accident had 
returned it to her, — such an accident as 
the devout of old time called a special 
providence, as she called by no name, 
but accepted in solemn thankfulness and 
dared not disregard. 

A moment ago she had bewailed as 
barren the happy past and all its mem- 
ories. And now her help had come out 
of the little book to which that past had 
given birth. She felt at once rebuked 
and strengthened. The prick of her own 
former enthusiasm spurred her to new 
effort. She would stagnate no longer. 



298 LADY LAURA. 

She would break at once the insincere 
silence that had paralysed her life. And 
to Laura should be her first atonement. 
She would write to her now and send the 
little book that contained all the best 
thoughts of the best period of her life. 
And Laura's passage from the faith of 
the past to that of the future should be 
easier for the roughnesses the way had 
had for her. 

^ Laura dearest/ she wrote, ' I startled 
you the other day with my abrupt con- 
fession, and I pained you by my im- 
patient answers when you asked about 
my faith. Forgive me — I have been so 
long silent on all that touches it that 
speech is as difficult to me as to those 
who have lived on desert islands. And 
so probably, if you came to me again, I 
should again answer you roughly. But 
there was a time when I thought I could 



LADY LAURA. 299 

speak of these things so as to help the 
world to understand them, and then I 
wrote my thoughts in the book that 
comes with this letter. I doubt now 
whether they will ever be given to the 
world. Though they are true, they may 
not be said with power or beauty enough 
.to gain attention from strangers. But to 
you, who know me, they may be helpful. 
And if they are, they will not have been 
written in vain. Eead them, and send 
them back to me, and some day tell me 
if happiness seems possible by such light 
as they give. 

' I go to London to-morrow to stay a 
foiinight with the Annesleys ; you will 
VvTite your news to me, and when I come 
back we shall talk it over. 

' Cassandra.' 

The Annesleys were friends to whom 
Cassandi-a paid periodical visits, and she 



300 LADY LAURA. 

had been glad within the last day or two 
to accept an invitation from them that 
enabled her to absent herself from Nant- 
y-Gwyn in a manner not likely to excite 
suspicion. 

As Laura read the letter she felt 
haunted as she had done once before by 
spirits from an uneasy past. But she 
found means to lay them, and she studied 
the book diligently with grateful feeUngs 
towards her cousin. 



END OF VOL. U. 



HazeU, Watson, and Vijuey, Printers, London and Aylesbury. 



UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS-URBANA 

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